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Invisible Disabilities (Part 1) – More Than Meets The Eye

A disability is a chronic health condition that interferes with one’s daily living by impeding routine activities. So what’s an invisible disability? According to Disabled-World, the term refers to people with chronic debilitating conditions (mental or physical) that are not obvious to an onlooker. Someone with a severe vision problem may use a seeing eye dog, or someone with a spinal cord injury may occupy a wheelchair, whereas people with invisible disabilities have no visible aids or obvious defining characteristics.

Types Of Invisible Disabilities

The Invisible Disabilities Association states, “There are thousands of (invisible) illnesses, disorders, diseases, dysfunctions, birth defects, impairments and injuries that can be debilitating.” A few examples of invisible disabilities include any type of moderate-to-severe arthritis, autoimmune conditions such as lupus, mental disabilities like schizophrenia or severe anxiety, diabetes, heart ailments, seizure disorders, respiratory diseases, bowel conditions, brain injuries, among many others.

Facts And Figures

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about half of the American population lives with one or more chronic health issues, though many of which are not considered disabilities. The CDC states that arthritis is the most common disability with over 53 million sufferers countrywide with some form of the disease. Moreover, The Invisible Illness Association asserts that over 26 million Americans have what constitutes a severe disability and of that group only 6 million use crutches, canes, wheelchairs or other obvious aids. Therefore, a whopping 74% of Americans with severe debilitating conditions have disabilities of the invisible variety.

Human Nature – Seeing Is Believing

Unfortunately, there is a social stigma surrounding invisible illness in our society. You’ve heard the old adage ‘seeing is believing’. In actuality, that should rarely be the case. According to Media Toolkit (a non-profit awareness and education group), invisible disabilities are often met with hostility. “People with some kinds of invisible disabilities such as chronic pain or sleep disorders are often accused of faking or imagining their disabilities.” This unhealthy attitude is unfair and needs an overhaul.

Mental Illness Stigma

Psychology Today asserts that such discrimination and prejudicial behavior is unfortunately commonly associated with mental illness. “In relation to social stigma, studies have suggested that stigmatizing attitudes towards people with mental health problems are widespread and commonly held.” This approach needs to change as well, as these negative attitudes trivialize the struggles of so many people who suffer daily, often leaving them feeling alienated from others.

Confusion? Understandable. Prejudice? Not So Much.

It is reasonable that some people are confused about what constitutes a disability. As the statistics show, just because someone has an illness does not mean they have a disability. Often people who appear to be incapacitated are not, while people who appear perfectly healthy are actually quite restricted. Many people feel they know someone who “capitalizes on an illness” or exaggerates, but looks truly can be deceiving and our initial assessments of a person’s situation are often completely wrong.

Clearing Up The Confusion

The Invisible Disabilities Association addresses these misconceptions. “Just because a person has a disability, does not mean they are disabled. Many living with these challenges are still fully active in their work, families, sports or hobbies. Some with disabilities are able to work full or part time, but struggle to get through their day, with little or no energy for other things. Others are unable to maintain gainful or substantial employment due to their disability, have trouble with daily living activities and/or need assistance with their care.” So while we may interact with people who have invisible illnesses, we never really know what living someone else’s life truly entails.
Keep an eye out for Part 2 – a revolutionary theory explaining invisible illnesses in a relatable way, as well as some resources for people suffering with chronic disabilities.