Imagine this. It is 6:15 in the morning and you’ve just opened your eyes after another sleepless night. Immediately upon waking, you get hit with persistently burning and deafening pain.
You take a deep breath and begin to tackle the day the best you can. It’s not anything new of course. This is the same pain you have dealt with day in and day out for years now.
Flash forward five hours. You’ve harnessed every ounce of energy and strength you have simply to take a trip to the grocery store.
You arrive, park in the designated handicap parking spot that you have a placard for and slowly exit the vehicle. Upon exiting, a man passing by glares at you and shakes his head. Next, a woman walks by and tells you to save that spot for someone who actually needs it.
Imagine this. You are living with an invisible disability and no one believes you.
We have all seen it before. Some guy pulls up in his car, parks in the handicap spot without a placard and runs into the store. You roll your eyes, shake your head and suppress the urge to call him out.
Yes, it is irritating. Yes, it is annoying. Yes, he is wrong.
But guess what? You don’t get to decide who is and isn’t disabled.
“It is estimated that 10 percent of people in the U.S. have a medical condition which could be considered a type of invisible disability,” according to a report released by Disabled World which was last updated Oct. 2018. “96 percent of people with chronic medical conditions live with an illness that is invisible.”
An invisible, or hidden, disability can be defined as an illness or disability that is not physically seen on an individual. An individual with an invisible disability will often be seen without any common support devices such as a wheelchair, braces or crutches.
While there are too many to name them all, some illnesses and disabilities that are considered invisible include rheumatoid arthritis, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, anxiety, depression, traumatic bodily injuries and the medical conditions that accompany them, chronic pain, and many more.
The lack of physical evidence of one’s disability is often the catalyst for others to make rash and incorrect assumptions about a person’s physical capabilities. However, acting on frustration and anger can cause lasting damage.
Confronting a disabled individual about their disability, or lack of, invalidates what they are going through and no one has the right to do that.
That individual may have been told today that their condition has worsened. Maybe their insurance no longer covers the medication they need. Or perhaps they are just so tired of living with pain and only wish that they never had to park in another handicap spot for the rest of their lives.
The truth of the matter is, you never know what someone is going through. This is true in all aspects of life.
Everyone is dealing with challenges and frustrations in their lives that others cannot see with their eyes. Individuals with hidden disabilities are no different.
To combat the epidemic of judgment on those with invisible disabilities, it is important to deploy empathy and understanding in situations where a knee-jerk reaction feels warranted and to accept that seeing is not always believing.