Not Every Disability is Visible

not every disability is visible

The other day, I came across this post on social media. I’ve seen it a few times before as well. But, I was surprised by some of the comments people left. It seems like a lot of people still don’t understand the disabilities are not always related to the physical, and even some physical disabilities may not be visible to others.

If we break down the word disability itself, we have dis- (from Latin) and ability. Dis- means “lack of/not”, and ability (according to Merriam-Webster) means “the quality or state of being able, especially: physical, mental, or legal power to do something”. They also give the definition of disability as, “a physical, mental, cognitive, or developmental condition that impairs, interferes with, or limits a person’s ability to engage in certain tasks or actions or participate in typical daily activities and interactions.” If you research further into it, you will find that this fits the legal/medical basis for the case of disability as well.

Just to be clear, some people can be high-functioning and still have a disability. The severity of a disability is different from person to person. Sometimes, the condition can worsen. Sometimes, it significantly improves.

The reason that awareness of disabilities (both visible and invisible) is important is so that disabled folks can receive the resources they may need to cope with their condition and function in everyday life. It could be physical therapy, cognitive therapy, medication, hospitalization, income assistance, housing, etc. Every case is unique, so there usually is some kind of medical assessment to determine this.

I’m not a fan of traditional employment, but I think employment should be fair for disabled folks. Not only is accommodation important, but proper compensation. Unfortunately, some employers take advantage of the law by hiring disabled folks and paying them subminimum wages. These kinds of laws are harmful and prey on vulnerable populations. If an individual is so impaired that they cannot do tasks at work sufficiently, then they either shouldn’t be working at all (the priority should be on health) or the government should be assisting these individuals and helping them find jobs (or necessary training) that they can excel in.

I’m trying to think of reasons why people would invalidate others’ disability status. Maybe they believe the a mental diagnosis, for example, shouldn’t qualify them for certain disability benefits. Yeah sure, maybe if someone were to have a diagnosis of schizophrenia, they wouldn’t necessarily need a disabled parking spot. But, disabled folks have a variety of needs, depending on the severity/circumstances. Someone who is wheelchair-bound may not necessarily need to regularly go to a psychiatrist. Does that mean they don’t have a disability? Of course not. Yet, this is the way people view others who do not have a “stereotypical” disability.

Disabled folks may require additional financial assistance or healthcare coverage temporarily/permanently as compared to normal-functioning individuals. They may be required to have routine checkups or ongoing treatment to cope with their sometimes lifelong condition.

I think another reason people may try to invalidate people’s disabilities is because they are worried about fraud or misuse of disability benefits. Honestly, this is no different from people misusing credit cards, or people misusing alcohol, or people misusing drugs, or people misusing technology, etc. It’s just another resource that people can choose to or choose not to exploit, like anything else. If we’re going to be concerned about misuse of funds, I’d focus more on resolving the national US debt than about vulnerable or disadvantaged folks trying to get a few extra hundred a month for food.

Beyond that, regular folks shouldn’t be going around trying to diagnose whether someone has chronic depression or anxiety and whether it is severe to the point where they can’t work. There is a reason that the evaluation is left up to the medical professionals.

As a society, we need to do a better job of understanding disability in general. According to the CDC, 1 out of 4 individuals in the US have a disability. That’s a significant amount of people. We would go a long way if we focused on how to significantly improve the quality of life for these individuals. They could also indirectly have an impact on society as a whole.

It’s kind of weird to just dismiss disabled folks as if they don’t matter. If they don’t matter and they don’t deserve resources, then why should you? If you’re advocating for independence, then why do you rely on the government, or others building your housing, or grocery stores, or a job, or the money system? It’s kind of hypocritical to expect disabled folks to fend for themselves, when the majority of able-bodied folks rely on others as well.

By the way, advocating for the needs of the disabled does not mean that you suddenly have to give up on your own needs or the needs of others. Everyone has needs and wants. It doesn’t make anyone less deserving. You can still advocate for food and housing not only for disabled folks, but for low-income folks. One group doesn’t have to suffer at the expense of another. I think this is a common misconception, this idea that it is a zero-sum game. That’s not the reality of the situation, and we need to break such an illusion.

That’s my take on disability. In short, I think people have to be more conscious of what they believe about disability in general, as it can be discriminatory (ableist), ignorant and possibly perpetuate harm. If we want to help this group and society as a whole, then we can approach this with the intention of better understanding, not of hate or destruction.

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