As a society, when we think of disabled, we immediately think of disabilities that we can see – like a wheelchair.
However, statistics show for every person you see with a visible impairment, you’ve more than likely seen four more who are disabled but don’t look it. When we talk about invisible disability, the first thing that jumps to mind is mental health. While this is a prevalent epidemic in today’s fast-paced world, disabilities are as diverse and infinite as any other illnesses.
How do we define invisible disabilities?
Invisible disability is a broad term inclusive of a wide variety of disabilities, and while they are largely neurological in nature, this is far from the only type. They are defined as disabilities that are not clearly evident and can include chronic illnesses such as renal failure, diabetes, and sleep disorders if the diseases significantly impair the person’s ability to perform the normal activities of daily life.
Food for thought
Think of someone as having a visual or auditory impairment. They might not wear glasses or hearing aids, and the impairment is not obvious, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect their ability to perform normal daily tasks. Another example is fibromyalgia which is now understood to be the most common cause of chronic musculoskeletal pain.
People with joint problems or chronic pain may not use mobility aids on some days, or at all. As the saying goes, some days are better than others.
Ignorance is not bliss
You’d be surprised how often abled people say innocuously obnoxious things like “but you don’t look sick” or “you don’t look disabled”. Even though these disabilities create a challenge for the people who have them, the reality is that it can be difficult for others to recognize or acknowledge that it exists. For example, did you know that in Zulu there isn’t even a word for depression? It isn’t really deemed a real illness in the African culture.
What’s worse, is that people with invisible disabilities such as chronic pain or a sleep disorder are often accused of faking or imagining their disabilities. Even more distressing is that disabled people with let’s say chronic pain may even be harassed by the social justice warriors who take it upon themselves to police disabled parking spaces and the like.
Physically seeing a person in a wheelchair or wearing a hearing aid are signifiers that society prevalently use as a mental picture for what disabled looks like. Therein lies the true problem. Many abled people have very limited exposure to disabled people, and it’s limited their idea of what disabled can “look like”.
It’s a grey area
For some people, their disabilities are almost always considered invisible like chronic and mental illnesses. Visual cues like under-eye bags, visible swelling of joints, or the way someone might lean against a wall for stability are things that could easily go unnoticed. Too often the messaging perpetuates the idea that disability is rigid and unchanging.
Disabilities cannot be lumped into neat little categories like visible and invisible, and the attempt to do so is futile. If someone walks with a limp is that considered visible? If they need to use their wheelchair one day and not the next, does that change the status of their disability? These questions drive the point home that disability is not binary and trying to categorize it is to try to determine what sick “looks like.”
The truth it doesn’t matter what any of us think disabled or sick “looks like” because it doesn’t change the reality of those living with a disability, invisible or otherwise. The takeaway here is to be aware. Learn about disabilities so that you can be a part of changing the narrative and ultimately become a more thoughtful and compassionate human being, making the world a better place for everyone.
Across the Group we have a number of end-to-end workplace solutions solving a wide range of business challenges. We search, place, develop, train and manage people for temporary and permanent job opportunities. We also supply people resources on an outsourced basis and manage people-intensive processes on behalf of our clients. Our mission is to build workplaces and careers of the future by transforming the places we work in. We do this by connecting potential.