I don’t write about disability issues a lot, primarily because I do not feel qualified to do, and I often feel like I am making an ass of myself when I try. But I like to be an ally to disability activists when I can, and I do think it’s important to talk about disability, and to bring it into the discourse. There’s a very focused collective social effort which is attempting to erase people with disabilities (or disabled people, if you prefer UK usage), and it makes me very uncomfortable. I’m especially pleased to see more feminist sites addressing disability issues, because I think that feminism ties into disability in many ways.
But I’m not talking about intersectionality today, although I could. Instead, I want to talk about invisible disabilities.
Someone with an invisible disability looks like someone who is able-bodied. Ou has no visible sign of impairment, but ou is still disabled. A lot of things could be considered invisible disabilities, like asthma, fibromyalgia, diabetes, renal failure, traumatic brain injuries, lupus, bipolar disorder, and so forth. People with invisible disabilities may not look like they need accommodations, but they actually do.
Like that woman you saw at the grocery store the other with the handicapped placard on her car who could walk just fine. She actually wasn’t some sort of malingerer or faker who managed to get a handicapped card because she’s too lazy to walk. She has an invisible disability, and having a handicapped placard for her car allows her to do things she might not be able to do otherwise.
Same with that guy who totally wasn’t blind who had a dog in the grocery store. He has an invisible disability, and having a service animal helps him function. Without a service animal, he might not be able to shop in the grocery store, which means that he would be dependent on someone else to get groceries. His quality of life and level of independence are greatly improved by having a service dog.
Same with that woman who boarded the plane early who looked perfectly fit, not like the “real” disabled people or the people with young children. She has an invisible disability, and needs some extra time to board and find her seat, so she is allowed to board early.
Marginalizing people with invisible disabilities is really hurtful. Curiously, it’s often the able-bodied who feel the need to police people with invisible disabilities. It’s able-bodied people who lobby for tougher regulations on parking placards which exclude a lot of people with invisibilities. It’s able-bodied people who bitch and moan about service animals, attempting to get them removed from public places even though that’s illegal, and making people with service animals feel uncomfortable. It’s able-bodied people who whine about disability access on the rare occasions that it’s actually offered, complaining that people who aren’t disabled will abuse it. Evidently, despite not being medical doctors and knowing nothing about disability, most of the able-bodied are fully capable of diagnosing disabilities and determining their severity.
When someone states that ou has a disability and ou looks “normal,” that’s not actually an invitation to ask that person about what disability ou has. It’s not your business. That women in the car at the grocery store might have anxiety disorder, or chronic fatigue syndrome, or rheumatoid arthritis, but it’s not really relevant to your existence, and it’s not appropriate to challenge her because she doesn’t look disabled to you. That man with the service animal might have seizures which are identified by the dog, or he might be deaf and using the service animal for assistance, or he might have bipolar disorder. Again, it’s not really your business.
Someone with an invisible disability probably doesn’t need your well-meaning and helpful advice. Ou doesn’t really need to hear about the treatment your aunt’s friend’s hairdresser uses, or about how you like to use aspirin for headaches. The words “but you don’t look sick” are marginalizing. People with invisible disabilities certainly don’t appreciate being informed that their conditions are “all in the head” or made up. They don’t need to be informed that only people in wheelchairs are really disabled, or that the only people who need service animals are blind. They need respect. They need accessibility. They need to be treated like human beings.
People with disabilities already face a lot of ignorance and prejudice. People wth invisible disabilities deal with prejudice on a whole new level. Awareness of the fact that invisible disabilities exist can go a long way towards improving the treatment of all people with disabilities.