Unless you live with a disability, you may not truly understand the challenges and stigmas that individuals with disabilities face on a daily basis. While many people assume that a disability is characterized by its “visibility” (such as a limp, physical disfigurement, or use of a wheelchair), there are many other disabilities that exist, but are less obvious or are even invisible. According to Donna Nesselbush, social security disability attorney at Marasco & Nesselbush, LLP, an individual with a disability may be struggling with a long term illness or may be receiving social security disability due to a recent injury that prevents one from working.
Disability has many faces and backgrounds, so unless you know the whole story, you should never judge or make assumptions about someone else’s visible or invisible disability.
Threat and Fear of Disability Discrimination
While our society has become more welcoming and accepting of individuals with disabilities, with visible disabilities becoming somewhat “normalized”, individuals with hidden or invisible disabilities may feel the threat and fear of discrimination. For example, if someone has a hidden disability, such as a mental health disorder, diabetes, or MS, the symptoms are not as obvious as someone who may need assistance with mobility or someone with a developmental impairment.
Since many invisible disabilities may make someone look a “normal, happy, and healthy” individual, he or she may be hesitant to share any information about his or her health, worried that he or she may be looked at differently, given preferential treatment, or even treated differently upon finding out about the disability. As with many disabilities, many individuals have an assortment of abilities and are able to work, start and keep relationships, and engage in daily activities. Unfortunately, if an individual with a hidden disability requires special accommodations, for instance, in the workplace, he or she may have a more difficult time receiving the help he or she requires.
Other Challenges of an Invisible Disability
How many times have you noticed someone parked in a designated parking spot for handicapped parking and doubted that he or she really had a disability, based upon the fact that he or she seemed to walk without assistance or didn’t appear to have any visible disability? Some people will even go as far as to approach someone and challenge him or her as to whether or not he or she is, in fact, disabled. While these “well-intentioned” citizens think they are looking out for others in the disabled community, their approach can be threatening, judgemental, and perpetuating the stigmas that surround individuals with disabilities.
An invisible disability can have debilitating pain, fatigue and dizziness. It can affect someone who has a visible impairment (such as use of a walker or wheelchair) or it can affect someone who appears to be physically active and independent. An individual with an invisible disability may have daily challenges or severe limitations that only occur a couple of times a year. However, the fear and threat of discrimination is a constant. Whether you are a friend, family member, co-worker, or even stranger to someone with an invisible disability, never make assumptions about how he or she feels and never assume that you have the “right” to know about his or her disability.