Written by Krishna Sabaratnam
Living with a disability is challenging, but what about those whose disabilities are invisible to the naked eye? These individuals face a unique set of obstacles and often find themselves in a constant battle to make their struggles understood. Silent suffering often can result in isolating experiences, leading to frustration and loneliness.
Invisible disabilities come in many forms, and they can include physical, mental, cognitive, or sensory impairments that are not readily apparent to others. These conditions may affect individuals’ daily functioning, social interactions, and overall well-being, often requiring understanding, support, and accommodations for optimal inclusion and accessibility.
Common Forms of Invisible Disability
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
People living with invisible disabilities may experience skepticism, misunderstandings, or lack of support due to the invisible nature of their condition. It is essential to recognize that the experiences and realities of living with a disability can differ greatly among individuals. Below are some common aspects that can shape the reality of living with a disability.
Social Stigma and Discrimination
Individuals with invisible disabilities often face challenges in establishing and sustaining relationships. This struggle stems from the dual demands of managing symptoms while trying to maintain a social life, which can be draining. Furthermore, the importance of prioritizing self-care over socializing is often misunderstood, making it challenging to make advance plans due to the unpredictable nature of symptoms associated with various chronic illnesses or disabilities.
The dilemma arises when deciding whether to reveal one’s illness in new relationships. The fear of overwhelming others, driving them away, or encountering stigmatizing beliefs about diagnosis often makes individuals uncertain about when and how to share such personal information.
Emotional and Psychological Impact
Constantly fielding questions about your disability can be draining and breed self-doubt. When others dismiss your experiences as mere imagination, it creates a disheartening reality that takes an emotional and psychological toll, leading to fatigue, distress, anger, and withdrawal. During these times, it is important to seek emotional support, counselling, and guided peer networks as they play a vital role in addressing the challenges you may be faced with.
Healthcare and Treatment
People who suffer from invisible illnesses often require the same attention as those with visible disabilities. Mental health faces pervasive societal stigma, and being an invisible handicap, it cannot be treated with a one-size-fits-all approach.
Empowerment and Resilience
Individuals with unseen disabilities often demonstrate remarkable resilience, adaptability, and inner strength. They employ diverse coping mechanisms, pursue education and vocational training, and actively engage in their communities. Empowerment initiatives and disability rights movements, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990) , and Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (2005), have sparked powerful movements that strive to amplify the voices and visibility of those with all types of abilities.
Invisible disabilities present a distinct struggle for acceptance in society compared to visible disabilities. Individuals with invisible handicaps constantly advocate for their abilities to be acknowledged and their unique challenges accommodated. The visibility or invisibility of a disability does not determine its severity, nor does it dictate how a person should navigate life with that disability. It is crucial to treat all individuals with the utmost care and respect, irrespective of whether their challenges are apparent to us. Recognizing and accommodating invisible disabilities sheds light on the areas where our society needs improvement.