Manchester United midfielder Darren Fletcher has recently spoken about the ulcerative colitis illness that has disrupted the last three years of his football career.

Fletcher spoke at the launch of ‘United for Colitis’ in aid of Crohn’s and Colitis UK. He said, “You can be running to the toilet 10, 20, 30 times a day and losing a lot of blood. I ended up in hospital a couple of times on an IV drip. Surgery enabled me to be here today. I'm very fortunate”.

Fletcher’s case highlights the importance of accommodating ‘hidden’ disabilities, which may not be immediately apparent by just looking at somebody.

“I remember when I was first diagnosed being very blasé about it - looking back now that was quite immature. As a professional footballer playing in the Premier League for Manchester United I felt on top of the world, I felt untouchable.”

The social model of disability focuses on the physical, sensory, attitudinal and environmental barriers that serve to ‘disable’ people. In many cases these can be very obvious – a wheelchair user will be ‘disabled’ where the only entrance to a building is via a flight of steps. In the case of hidden disabilities, this is not always as clear.

“Once I started talking about it and making it public knowledge it was such a relief; it was the best thing I did.”

It is crucial to raise awareness and understanding of hidden disabilities. There are instances such as Darren’s where a person may require accessible provisions such as easy access to an accessible toilet. People should not be pre-judged based on appearance, as there are a great number of people who have ‘hidden’ disabilities who are affected by barriers in society.

If you have a story about hidden disability that you would like to share with CAFE and our network, please feel free to contact us via [email protected].

The European Federation of Crohn's & Ulcerative Colitis Associations is an umbrella organisation representing 28 national patients’ associations from 27 European countries and 3 associate members from outside Europe. To find out more, please visit

You can read more about Darren Fletcher’s story at

Published 07/02/2014