The Invisible Disabled

“My advice to other disabled persons would be, concentrate on things your disability doesn’t prevent you doing well, and don’t regret the things it interferes with. Don’t be disabled in spirit, as well as physically.”

Stephen Hawking, “Abled” world renowned physicist with Lou Gehrig Disease.

All of us have been witness to the many people in wheelchairs, and brandishing their canes as they go about their daily business…individuals with an apparent physical disability; but are you aware of the millions of individuals living with disabilities that are generally unnoticed?

They, the individuals living with an unseen disability, are not generally perceived by the general population…they are individuals living with an Invisible Disability.

The term invisible disability refers to symptoms such as debilitating pain, fatigue, dizziness, cognitive dysfunctions, brain injuries, learning differences and mental health disorders, as well as hearing and vision impairments. These are not always obvious to the onlooker, but can sometimes or always limit ones daily activities, range from mild challenges to severe limitations and vary from person to person.

Surveys have constantly told us that clearly one-fifth of our societal populations suffer from disabilities. Of the more than 26 million individuals living with disabilities, only 1.8 million used a wheelchair and 5.2 million use a cane, crutches or walker.

In other words, 74 percent of Americans who live with a severe disability do not use such devices. Therefore, a disability cannot be determined solely on whether or not a person uses assistive equipment. It is quite unfortunate that people often judge others by what they see and often conclude a person can or cannot do something by the way they look. This can be equally frustrating for those who may appear unable, but are perfectly capable, as well as those who appear able, but are not.

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, an individual with a disability is a person who: Has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; has a record of such impairment; or is regarded as having such impairment. A person is considered to have a disability if he or she has difficulty performing certain functions (seeing, hearing, talking, walking, climbing stairs, and lifting and carrying), or has difficulty performing activities daily living, or has difficulty with certain social roles.

Clearly, there are thousands of diagnosed illnesses, disorders, diseases, dysfunctions, birth defects, impairments, and injuries that can be considered an invisible disability. The act also is meant to protect individuals with disabilities from discriminatory practices.

Recently, during one of my book signing events on my book events tour, I was approached by an obvious very intelligent elderly woman, whom was most concerned about individuals with invisible disabilities and the seemingly lack of concern of the general population to the subject. She related that since she has spinal and other difficulties, invisible disabilities, that she is only able to work a few hours per day and that she has had great difficulty in obtaining employment. Either the employers are in blatant violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, or cite the “reasonable accommodation” clause of the act.

Although I am a retired person with invisible disabilities myself, having had Cancer for over 20 years, gone through radiation treatment, multiple rounds of chemotherapy, surgeries, and still kept alive by chemical therapies, have spinal degeneration, etc…I understand and empathize with her. She related that on most days she could get around fairly well, while at other times she could not; much like a friend of my wife’s and I who suffers from the devastating disease of Lupus; and my own difficulties in functioning from day to day. There are literally millions of individuals with invisible disabilities who can relate to the same experiences.

I looked up some information on the internet about invisible disabilities, and I would like to share a couple of lists with you that are most important to know, as attributable to Molly’s fund fighting Lupus: what not to say to a person with a disability, and what to say to them instead. Ten things NOT to say are: 1) “You have what? I’ve never heard of it.” 2) “You need to exercise more.” 3) “Aren’t you feeling better yet?” 4) “Maybe an anti-depressant would help.” 5) “But you look just find, you don’t look sick.” 6) “You are taking too much medicine.” 7) “You need to change your diet.” 8) “It’s all in your head.” 9) “Losing weight might help.” 10) “If you had a more positive attitude.”

On the other side, 10 things TO SAY to the person with invisible disability are: 1) How are you doing today?” 2) “Is there anything I can do to make things easier for you?” 3) “I am here for you, whatever you need.” 4) “It must be very difficult to have a disease where you feel so awful on the inside but it doesn’t show on the outside.” 5) “I am so sorry that you are going through this.” 6) “I wish I could take away your pain.” 7) “I hope you are feeling better soon.” 8) “I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers.” 9) I may not completely understand your disease or what you are going through, but I would like to.”10) “I am sorry I judged you before understanding your disease and what you are going through.”

Above all else, the person with an invisible disability wants nothing more than what we all want; respect for person and empathetic understanding. Isn’t that what we all want? Until next time, Stay Healthy My Friends.