When it doesn't show – about invisible disabilities

March 31 2016

Millions of people around the world have some kind of disability. In many cases it is impossible to tell, just by looking at someone.
These invisible impairments are limiting in one way or another, even though it is not obvious to others.
So let’s focus beyond the visible!


Visual impairment, hearing loss, dyslexia, diabetes, fatigue, allergy, neck pain and bladder problems. All are examples of disabilities that are invisible.

The definition of invisible disabilities, as defined by the organization Disabled World, are chronic illnesses and conditions that significantly impair normal activities of daily living. The majority of people with chronic medical conditions live with an illness that is invisible, and about a quarter of them have some type of activity limitation, ranging from mild to severe.



Unfortunately, people often judge others by what they see and conclude that 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.

International disability expert, Joni Eareckson Tada, explained it well when she talked to a person living with debilitating fatigue:
“People have such high expectations of folks like you [with invisible disabilities]. Like, ‘come on, get your act together.’ But they have such low expectations of folks like me in wheelchairs, as though they expect that we cannot do much”.
The bottom line is that everyone with a disability is different, with varying challenges and needs, as well as abilities and attributes.


It is also a matter of terminology. A person with a disability doesn’t have to be disabled, at least not always. Many people living with these challenges are fully active in their lives. They work, spend time with their families, do sports or enjoy their hobbies.
Others can’t work or have trouble with their daily activities. But you are only disabled in relation to the world around you. The obstacles you meet in a specific situation will determine whether you are disabled or not.

The words are important. Instead of talking about “the disabled person", consider “a person with a disability”. Notice the difference? Disabled is not who you are.
To acknowledge the person before the disability is called a ‘person first language’, and is a good thing to remember when you communicate around these questions.

Meet Aiden

Now you will meet Aiden. After an accident at a construction site he sustained a spinal cord injury. Luckily he healed quite well but ended up with, for the observer, an invisible problem. He cannot empty the bladder without using an intermittent catheter. Does Aiden consider it to be limiting his life?
Watch this short movie with Aiden!



Topics: Clean Intermittent Catheterization (CIC), Spinal Cord Injury (SCI)