Invisible Disabilities

Invisible Disabilities

Recently, I was reading through a comment section below an article about what it’s like living with a disability. One contributor offered this example scenario:

Scenario 1: A blind person is in a store. Through an mistake in their cane technique, they accidentally break a piece of merchandise

Scenario 2:A person suffering from PTSD is in a store. They smell a cologne that was the same their attacker wore. They become very upset and accidentally break a piece of merchandise

Who do you think the store owner will be more sympathetic toward?

It might sound pessimistic, but my bet is that 9 out of 10 times, the person with PTSD will end up paying for the broken merchandise, while the blind person probably will not. Why is this?

Inclusion of People with Invisible Disabilities

Many would argue that it’s the difference between a visible disability and an “invisible” one. Invisible disabilities are the ones you might not even know someone has. A longer list can be found on our Disability Defined page, but I’ll name a few here:

  • anxiety/depression
  • heart disease
  • sleep disorders
  • digestive disorders (such as Crohn’s Disease or IBS)
  • bipolar disorder
  • cancer

Often, the applicants we see here at Peak Performers who have “invisible” disabilities also have this in common: they’re more likely to protest, “Oh, but I’m not really disabled.”

Disability Defined

The legal definition of “disability” was originally set by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Passed in 1990, this Act offered a fairly limited definition, covering mostly the physical conditions we traditionally think of as “disabling.”

In 2008, however, this definition was broadened considerably, under the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA). Most notably, the ADAAA now includes individuals who have been diagnosed with the “invisible” disabilities.

Traditionally, these are the conditions that, because they were not protected (either under the ADA, or pre-dating regulations), were not only invisible, but were also hidden. These are also the “newest” disabling conditions, in the sense that it hasn’t been until recently that scientists and therapists have begun to understand them. Today, in spite of laws meant to protect disabled individuals from discrimination, I’ve seen plenty of career advice articles extolling the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. In other words: unless your disability is hard not to see, it’s best not to say anything.

To me, this is a sign that there is still something wrong with the system. Individuals still expect to encounter disability discrimination in the workplace.

Recently, to the tune of $7 million, a Missouri judge successfully sued the state for firing him due to his disability, a very difficult form of muscular dystrophy. His lawyer called the success “vindictive” for her client, adding that: “He felt like he was heard and somebody listened to him and believed him and saw him for the first time on these issues.”

The Need for Change

Visible disabilities, such as the Missouri judge’s muscular dystrophy or blindness, have often been documented for many years. And yet, they are still discriminated against. Invisible disabilities, such as PTSD or Crohn’s disease, are easier to hide, less understood by your average person, and tend to have a shorter history of documentation. They’re also harder to “prove,” and someone could be accused of simply “faking it.”

I’ll leave you by returning to my first example, and ask: Who would you ask to pay for the broken merchandise in your store?

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Learn more here, and follow Peak Performers as we work to grow awareness.