I bet you didn’t know this week is Invisible Disabilities Week! But wait, what is an invisible disability? And why are we talking about this on a blog that isn’t about disabilities?
From the Invisible Disabilities Association website:
The term invisible disabilities 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 daily activities, range from mild challenges to severe limitations, and vary from person to person.
Unfortunately, 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.
Joni Eareckson Tada, an International Disability expert, explains the paradox of having an invisible disability:
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 it’s expected that we can’t do much.
There is ongoing debate about whether the term invisible disabilities covers conditions such as dyslexia, ADHD, and other learning differences (also known as learning disabilities). Whether or not students, parents, and teachers are comfortable with this term, it is important to acknowledge that having learning differences often results in invisible struggles that may not be apparent to others. Similarly, it can be hard for individuals with a learning difference to convey to outsiders what these day-to-day struggles are like. Invisible Disabilities Week is an opportunity to acknowledge the unseen frustration, grief, and anger that often accompany a learning difference.
There are some fantastic conversations going on this week all over the Internet, particularly on Twitter using the #invisibledisabilities hashtag. Join the conversation to lend your unique voice and share your experience, or just follow along and listen to what other people have to say.
Ultimately, everyone is different and has a unique set of abilities and needs. Invisible Disabilities Week reminds us that we all need to take the time to listen to another person’s perspective and not assume that we understand their lives.
- Elizabeth Ross, M.A., SMARTS Media Manager