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How to Communicate With Me About My Invisible Disability

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Communication is a key part of relationships and life in general. We use speech in various forms when communicating with different people such as family, friends and even more authoritative people like our teachers and doctors. But there is also a way to speak to disabled people. Now, disabilities vary but I will share my thoughts on how to speak to someone with an “invisible disability.”

First off, an invisible disability is as a disability that is not immediately apparent or visible. I would be classed as having an invisible disability because I have mild cerebral palsy. I know how it feels when people don’t know what to say or how to react. The term “invisible disability” makes it seem like it’s not a big deal, when in fact it’s a huge deal. The language around it needs to change as “invisible” suggests non-existent. It annoys me because my disability tends to be “out of sight, out of mind” and I constantly have to “prove” myself as disabled.  In order to get an accessible seat on public transport, I often have to exaggerate my condition in order to be taken seriously, which is unfair as I should not have to justify myself to strangers. This is a daily occurrence recently, and it’s frustrating.

I often feel I’m not taken seriously as a person. It’s hard enough to be taken seriously as a young woman, but as a young, disabled woman it’s nearly impossible. But thankfully attitudes are changing. I’m also still learning about how to talk about my condition openly, so I appreciate it when people take me seriously and don’t just brush it off because it’s not more physically apparent. Although it can be awkward for me to talk about it, but please don’t get awkward when I tell you about my cerebral palsy. Please ask as many questions as you want. I may not have all the answers, but it shows that you are trying to educate yourself and we are starting a dialogue.

Society needs to talk more openly about invisible disabilities. Many people are affected by this stigma and a way of changing that is educating yourself. So please don’t tell me “I’m sorry” or that you emphasize with me about my pain and suffering if you honestly don’t know much about cerebral palsy. Just ask me questions and be understanding. I also ask you to be patient and realistic with my body. I am not that strong or flexible so I need to take my time doing activities; things as simple as
walking can be extremely difficult for me.

One thing I really want to stress is the misuse of disabled bathrooms. If you are not disabled, don’t use the accessible bathroom stall. You are taking a facility away from someone who actually really needs it. I’m tired of able-bodied people using the bathroom because it’s “convenient” — it’s not meant for you. On days when my foot or hip is really sore and I’m limping, I need the accessible bathroom and there is nothing more frustrating than being denied this access because someone able-bodied was too lazy to use a regular stall.

Also, please don’t tell me I’m “lucky” or “it could be worse.” I am well aware of my situation and my circumstances, and obvious statements don’t change that. Yes, I am privileged due to my class and skin color. I’m a white, middle class and
educated woman, but I’m also disabled and that comes with some prejudices. I get some benefits like an allowance, but I’m not “lucky” to have them; I would rather not have to need them. So don’t be jealous of my circumstances.

Some ways to help me other than talking are to hold doors open, help me with my bags and offer me a seat on public transport if I ask or need it. I would also ask you to be more intuitive when you are in public or become aware of someone’s condition. Through these actions, you are helping end the stigma around invisible disabilities.

Originally published: July 10, 2018
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