Anyone who lives with an invisible disability or condition knows the risk that comes with using a disabled parking space. Some people with invisible disabilities regularly find themselves harassed by onlookers who suspect a driver without a disability is abusing an important parking lot system.
The good news is, we can all work together to create a safer, more caring experience for people with invisible conditions. And it’s simpler than it might seem. Learn about the challenges faced by people with invisible disabilities. Rethink assumptions in your community or workplace. Or simply resist judgment for someone using a disabled parking space. These are just a few small steps that make a big difference to people with invisible health conditions.
What are invisible disabilities, and how common are they?
As the term suggests, invisible disabilities are conditions that cannot easily be identified by another person. In contrast to people with a wheelchair, cane or specific physical features, many invisible health conditions are only noticed as a friendship or working relationship develops. And some invisible disabilities are only known if the person chooses to share.
Common invisible conditions include:
- Brain injury
- Chronic pain and fatigue
- Cognitive and learning disabilities
- COVID “long-hauler”
- Lyme Disease
- Mental illness
- Multiple sclerosis
Among the estimated millions of Americans who live with an invisible disability, symptoms and level of severity varies. Depending on the person and the condition, they may be reluctant to talk about their illness for fear of being stigmatized, misunderstood or simply not believed.
How can I help someone with an invisible condition?
There are simple things that anyone can do to be more sensitive to the people around them, including those with invisible disabilities. The simplest — and often the most important — thing is to believe someone who shares a disability or condition.
Listening with belief to someone who has an invisible health issue or pain is powerful because it increases understanding and acceptance. For people who often feel dismissed by doctors or rejected by family members, the simple act of belief can go a long way.
Support people with invisible disabilities at work
An effective and high-performing workplace team depends on people who work hard, collaborate and hold themselves and each other accountable. Press pause when you notice someone is being labeled as lazy, unreliable or difficult. Reflect on anything in the work schedule, expectations or collaboration that could indicate a non-apparent disability is involved. Then consult your HR team about the best way to proceed.
Create a more understanding community
A community can be a place of connection and source of healthy relationships. Ask yourself if the most popular events, activities and programs would be inclusive of the many residents who are silently managing pain, fatigue or mental illness. Share this broader perspective with friends and neighbors to help grow awareness and intentionally include more people.
Could the annual 5K to raise money for the library be expanded to include a community read-along? Perhaps an afternoon ice cream social or concert in the park could be added to the summer carnival. Inclusive activities help include those with special needs — and provide meaningful ways for their friends and loved ones to enjoy, as well.
Assume the best when you’re traveling or shopping
When you’re running errands or on the go, it’s natural to have a laser focus on what needs to be done and how long it will take. When behavior or actions by others get you curious, pause and consider if an invisible condition may be involved. (This includes when you spy someone using a disabled parking spot or restroom stall!) Showing grace to others will go a long way to creating a more comfortable and accepting world for everyone, including people with invisible disabilities.
What can keep people with an invisible disability safe in an emergency?
Many people who live with an invisible condition worry about what will happen in an emergency or moment of crisis. The stress of an emergency situation can limit communication skills, trigger unpredictable body language or create misunderstandings with first responders.
The Vitals™ App can help anyone with an invisible condition or other vulnerability who worries about staying safe. Whether at home or in the world, The Vitals™ App is the only living digital medical ID that emergency responders receive instantly when it’s needed most.
In this app to communicate health issues to 911, users have full control over the information that’s entered in their profile, including disabilities, conditions, emergency contact information, triggers, medications, de-escalation techniques or anything else.