What is an invisible disability?

If you were directed to this page via a business card a very “rude” person handed you in response to what you may believe was a simple question, well- you have come to the right place. I shared those cards with a lot of people, so the person who gave you the card likely wasn’t me, but I am here to educate.

I’m not going to shame you or anything. Chances are, you’re genuinely ignorant about the existence of invisible disabilities. You’re not alone. Many people have never even considered the concept.

Please, allow me to explain.

An invisible disability is a condition which affects a person in any unseen mental, physical, or any other way, resulting in limitation. It can be anything from blindness, to deafness, to debilitating neurological disorders, or innately physical conditions such as MS.

I actually have multiple invisible disabilities, caused by a complicated birth defect called Septo-Optic Dysplasia. Long story short, I am completely blind in both peripherals, what vision I do have is worse than that of a senior citizen (I’m only 29), and my pituitary gland does not function well enough to sustain my body on its own. I take medications to keep myself alive, but treatment is not a cure, and it is still imperfect. Because of this, I experience many debilitating symptoms on a regular basis. Fatigue, vertigo, and brain fog to name a few. Because of the severity of these symptoms, I have been determined to be Disabled by a disability judge.

Despite the fact that I’m disabled, I look outwardly healthy. My happy-go-lucky personality and sunny (haa name pun) disposition lead strangers on the street to assume I am perfectly healthy, when in reality I may need to lie down without much warning, and even on my best days, I have very limited stamina.

Even though this is my normal, many people have no idea that invisible disabilities like my own even exist. There is an assumption that folks who have disabilities carry canes, ride in wheelchairs, or have visible tells giving them away. This is not always the case, and I wish more people understood that.

In one of my support groups for people with my condition, I just came across a post where someone was venting about having just been asked by a random citizen (not a cop or security guard) for proof that she was disabled because she had parked in a handicap parking space. He demanded to see her permit, which she had. It is important to note that the entire time he had detained her, she was experiencing intense uncomfortable symptoms and just wanted to get home.

This was my comment on her post, but I thought it would be important to share this publicly:

Personally, I would have shown him my permit then said something along the lines of “now that you have taken up MY time, give me the courtesy of explaining to you for a few minutes why asking this question of anyone is unacceptable”, then proceed to explain as calmly as possible what an invisible disability is and how incredibly demeaning it is to have to validate your broken body to a complete stranger who has no right to control you in the first place. A phrase I like to use is, “what’s worse, letting someone ignorant use a handicap parking spot, or being the ignorant fool who demands proof that a person has a disability?” Being reminded of your limits and judged in the process is so destructive to a person living with a disability.

Don’t be that person, and if you see something… say something. Don’t let unconscious ableism go uncorrected.

Download printable invisible disabilities info cards here