Empathy for invisible disabilities

Not all disabilities are visible

The other day, I was having a conversation and a person. The conversation turned to our mission and they said “I don’t see your disability–it can’t be that bad.” To which, I wanted to reply “Well, that’s great but I have to live with it.”

Some people without disabilities struggle to recognize the significance and impact of invisible and hidden disabilities. After all, if we can’t see it, can it really be all that bad?

Invisible disabilities are very real

The first thing to realize is that invisible disabilities are very, very real and they do impact people’s lives. Furthermore, each person will be impacted differently. To further complicate things: each individual person will be affected differently at different times!

Sometimes the impact of invisible disabilities will be tangible. For my own part, I cannot hear you in a crowded restaurant without assistance. Also, I can show you my audiogram that looks like a downward ski slope.

However, if you were, for example, autoimmune compromised the impact might be less tangible. Perhaps you are sick more often than most people and your illnesses lasts longer. Perhaps the indirect impact of this disability leads you to be less likely to go out in public and constantly anxious about your health.

Or if you had ADHD, the impact might affect how you are able to work and communicate with other people. It might affect your attention span. People with ADHD sometimes struggle in school or work environments due to their shifting attention or hyper fixation.

Or if you have PTSD, the impact might be fear, sense of dread, or generalized anxiety. It might affect your sleep and how comfortable you feel in social situations or in public.

Each of these conditions is complicated and diverse, as are the people who carry them. For your part, listen to people’s experiences and feelings. Don’t rush to judgements and acknowledge their feelings and condition as real and impactful.

For more examples of visible and invisible disabilities, make sure to check out our disability re-defined page.

Be kind and watch what you say

The second thing that you can do is change the way that you talk about other people. Don’t make assumptions, don’t make fun of people, and don’t make little of any other person’s experience. (Especially don’t engage in any of these activities around other people.)

You never know who around you has an invisible disability so don’t diminish any person or any condition. You may be speaking to someone who has that condition or one similar to it! Like chameleons, people with invisible disabilities are often camouflaged and hiding around you.

Furthermore, having an invisible disability is often a minimizing and socially isolating experience. Many are afraid to talk about it, even to their close friends and family members.

Don’t make their life any harder. Remember to be nice 🙂


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