For those of you who are not fortunate enough to know people who have a disability this may be a foreign concept. I know before I became involved with people with disabilities I was completely unaware that (ignorant if you like) that not everyone who has a disability looks like they have a disability. Often, we only “see” the physical side, or at least the part that is in your face. You know the people you see who: –
- Use a wheelchair, crutches, canes
- Have an artificial limb
- Have a Guide or Companion Dog
Look a little harder and you might notice: –
- A hearing aid or cochlear ear implant
- Tics and other types of involuntary movement or sounds
- Walking or balance differences
What you OFTEN do not notice is a person who has an invisible disability. To the uninitiated they look just like you and me.
So, What’s the Problem?
So, what are invisible disabilities and why would they be as hard or in some cases harder to deal with than those disabilities us “normal” people can see? Invisible disabilities are just that, unless you know the person extremely well (and sometimes even then) you will not know or at least notice right away that there is something different going on in their lives. Some of the invisible disabilities I come into contact almost daily are: –
- People who can or, may be able to walk short distances, but can only play wheelchair sport
- A person who is unable to speak or hear
- A “High functioning” anything – someone who looks like you or me but has difficulties walking, talking, toileting, being over or under stimulated, are in severe pain or are anaphylactic to anything
- They may be a person who can walk, talk and breathe apparently normally one day and be confined to bed or a wheelchair the next
- People who experience epilepsy, or have stomas
The list is endless.
Rock and a Hard Place
So, I hear you thinking, why would these people have issues? They get the best car paces at the shops and their friends all think
- They are pulling the wool over the authority’s eyes OR,
- I’m glad I don’t have to deal with that OR,
- What is their problem????
People with Invisible Disabilities are actually between a rock and a hard place. They look “normal” but have needs that can only be met by admitting they have a disability. This has some major ramifications on their daily lives. They are often abused for using the “Disability Parking” spaces and almost always abused for using the “Disabled Toilets” – especially when they take too long in the disabled bathroom (arh … this is because they have a disability).
A Type of Discrimination
They are in a kind of “lala land” where they are neither looked as being disabled enough to get services, products and respect of people with more severe disabilities receive. However, they are disabled enough not to be classified as to fall within the “normal” range of abilities. They are judged and often discriminated by both ends of the spectrum. I know both of my boys and many friends with invisible disabilities have experienced discrimination in relation to not looking disabled enough. Comments include:-
“You must be cheating” when #1 son walked into a repair shop to get the hand grip of his sport chair re-welded onto the wheel.
“You’re disusing, using a disable bathroom just because you don’t want to wait for a toilet in the ladies” To which my friend calmly lifted her top to display her stoma bag.
I really relate to Mayoon Zayid’s TED Talk … “I got 99 problems…. Palsy is just one” where she speaks about not being able to join her friends at a nightclub because the bouncer has decided she was drunk due to her walk.
Again, I hear those cogs turning and many of you may be thinking “toughen up princess, it’s just one comment, and that’s not going to kill you”. The thing is, often this is a daily occurrence, and depending upon the venue and type of invisible disability the person has can be an hourly occurrence. This is when having an invisible disability can affect mental health, and that is unfair. People with invisible disabilities already have enough on their plates without the public in general passing judgement.
So, the next time you see a “walker” get out of the car in a shopping centres disabled car park, check that they have their universal “blue wheelchair” sticker – they’ve worked hard to get it. And, if they don’t ask where it is, that it has been given to them for a reason – use it correctly. If, the person is just going to be a minute and this is the most accessible park, let them know that ignorance is not a disability and that you will ask the next person who has a wheelchair sticker on their car and is missing out on a parking space to park them in and then unload said wheelie when they come out – oh there is a reason for that extra space and the location.