Invisible disabilities are chronic illnesses and conditions that significantly impair normal activities of daily living. Invisible disabilities are not immediately apparent: a person with visual loss may wear contacts, or someone with an auditory deficit may use discrete hearing aids. A person with chronic back pain could possibly use hidden accommodations. Someone who has joint problems may not use mobility aids on some days. People can have dramatic limitations in how much they can perform activities of daily living, such as typing, using the telephone or writing.
Invisible disabilities, also called ‘hidden disabilities’, can hinder a person’s efforts at going to school, work, socializing and more. Although the disability creates a challenge for the person himself, the reality of the disability can be difficult for others to recognize or acknowledge. Others may not understand the cause of any difficulty as being a disability if they cannot see evidence of it in a visible way.
About 10% of Americans have a medical condition which could be considered an invisible disability. 96% of people with chronic medical conditions live with an invisible condition. These people do not use a cane or any assistive device and act as if they didn’t have a medical condition
There are several ideologies which play into how people with invisible disabilities are treated. Each model is essential to understanding the discrimination of and treatment of people with invisible disabilities. These ideologies are pervasive in public culture, and expressed in a multitude of ways.
The ideologies focused on here are the medical model of disability, and the social model of disability. The medical model of disability can lead to misperceptions and misunderstandings that prompt some people to be insensitive and less willing to accommodate the needs of people whose disabilities are not readily apparent. The social model of disability defines the societal values that actually disable people through imposed measures which prevent involvement in public life.
These attitudes toward disabilities show how stigma reduces communication and fosters separation. Stigma denotes perceived shame or disgrace, and is a type of prejudice.
.Joshua Kelly was a friendly, open, hard-working, exceptional young man to whom education was a priority. Josh wrote an email to me, in which he explained
“I was working construction in Salt Lake City at the time of my accident. It was at this point in my life that I discovered that I was born with extra blood vessels on the top of my brain – because I had ruptured them from a fall.
Even after brain surgery I have had a continuing epileptic condition and am disabled…I now have a service dog that has been trained to hover over my body when I have collapsed and attract attention. He has helped to save my life on more than one occasion.
Epilepsy is a condition, not a disease, which I will have for the rest of my life; I have come to accept this. My life is much easier when I can just wake up every morning and be able to smile.”
Joshua Kelly had many epileptic seizures, many grand mal, and it was a final grand mal seizure that caused his death a year ago this month. He was a fine man, and will be sorely missed.
In the process of undergoing a separate surgical procedure several years ago, my son was informed that a hernia operation was also necessary. As a result, he is now restricted to lighter-weight lifting and pulling, among other things, and must be very careful when asked for assistance with lifting heavy objects.
In addition to the results of a stroke that are patently apparent, I have several invisible disabilities. Among deficits I struggle with daily, I now have trouble with simple math tasks, some advanced spelling and grammar skills and short- and long-term memory loss.
My friend has an old shoulder injury limiting use of her right arm and hand. Another friend cannot sleep on her left side due to pain in her hip. Several people I know have back problems and must limit activities accordingly.
Perhaps you know someone with an invisible disability, someone who has an unseen deficit in his activities of daily living. Perhaps you yourself are limited in an unobserved way. Perhaps you can be tolerant as well.
Do you have a disabilities issue that you would like to see addressed here? Please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.