October 15th to 21st is National Invisible Disability week. There are many types of disabilities which can afflict a person which are not visible to others. An invisible disability doesn’t usually have noticeable physical features, behaviours, or assistive devices.
A Canadian study in 2017 showed that 1 in 5 people over the age of 15, were living with a disability. The most common of those disabilities were related to pain, flexibility, mobility, and mental health.
When physical or mental challenges aren’t obvious, people often judge, shame or dismiss.
What you see isn’t the whole picture, invisible disabilities are not immediately noticeable. They can be as life-altering as disabilities which require the use of devices, such as wheelchairs, hearing aids or white canes.
The term invisible disabilities covers a wide variety of hidden conditions, including chronic pain, mental illness, communication disorders, brain injuries, developmental and learning disabilities, hearing loss, Crohn’s disease, sleep disorders, severe allergies and diabetes.
These conditions can impact how a person relates to others, moves, processes and retains information, learns and lives their daily life. Invisible disabilities also impact how other people react to them. It’s common for people with invisible disabilities to experience discrimination and exclusion. Unfortunately, people’s responses can be based on incorrect assumptions and a common response is “But you don’t look like there’s anything wrong with you.”
How can we do better? Here are some ways to help
Ask instead of assuming or judging. So how can you know if someone you encounter is not actually “lazy,” “slow,” “rude,” “weird” or “not paying attention” but, in fact, displaying symptoms of an invisible disability? If we see someone is having a hard time, we all should simply start by asking, “How can I help?”
Don’t think of it as special treatment—because it’s not. Often people who don’t understand invisible disabilities think of accessibility requests as preferences. They’re not. They’re human rights. They’re not asking for special treatment—they’re asking for equity and the right to be included in life.
Don’t expect consistency. Another thing people need to understand is that no two days are the same for many of us with invisible disabilities. Some days they might need more support than others, it’s not the role of the person without the disability to figure out what supports the person with the disability needs.
Never stop asking the important questions. As you go about your day, keep asking yourself these three questions: Do my actions include or exclude? Do they make someone feel different? Am I passing judgment when I don’t really know the facts? People with invisible disabilities deserve the same chances as those without disabilities to live a full life and form friendships that connect us to our communities.
Take this time to reflect and remember, you never know what disability your neighbour, friend, co-worker may be dealing with. Even though they may not be using a cane or be in a wheelchair, they may be suffering with an unseen disability.
Whitevalley Resource Center would like to thank our sponsors, The United Way, and Interior Health.