The Mighty Logo

4 Reasons to Invite Your Friend With a Chronic Illness, Even If You Think They'll Say No

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

I am disabled and a wheelchair user. My mobility is limited by fatigue and pain and numerous other symptoms. But I still enjoy participating in life, doing things around the house, spending time with my loved ones, caring for my cats, and engaging in my hobbies. The way that I do these things might differ from how able-bodied people usually think about them, and that’s OK.

What’s not OK is when able-bodied people assume I don’t want to participate in certain things because I can’t do things the way they do them. Sometimes people don’t want to make me feel bad for being disabled, so they avoid inviting me so I don’t have to bring up my limitations. Sometimes they feel uncomfortable or annoyed when I bring up accommodations and accessibility, and they don’t invite me so they won’t have to deal with the barriers I face every day.

Whatever the reason, assuming I don’t want to be invited is incredibly hurtful and causes additional harm through depriving me of a number of opportunities. The opportunity of participating in a social event or outing is the most obvious of those opportunities, but I am talking about the opportunities that are present inside of the invitation itself.

Opportunity #1: Advocating for Accessibility

When people decline to invite me because they fear the venue or event won’t be accessible, what they are saying to me is that they don’t care if it’s inaccessible. I would like to be invited so that I can speak to whether the venue or event is accessible or not. If it isn’t, I’d like the opportunity to educate my social group on what could be improved, and whether there are accommodations we can provide for me as a group to make the outing more accessible. If I’m avoided because talking about accessibility is too uncomfortable or inconvenient, then how are we going to make the changes necessary for me to no longer need to talk about these issues?

Opportunity #2: Assessing My Capacity

When people decline to invite me because they fear I might not be able to endure the activity or event, they deny me the opportunity to assess my own capacity and balance my social needs with the needs of my chronic illnesses. Of course, going out and socializing taxes me and causes some of my symptoms to get worse. Of course, sometimes my capacity is too low and I will choose to stay home and care for myself. But my capacity fluctuates all the time, and if I am always assumed to be at my worst then you’ll never catch me at my best.

Opportunity #3: Assessing My Desires

When people decline to invite me because they assume I won’t like or want or enjoy the event, they deny me the opportunity to assess my own desires and enjoyment. This may not be as important for others, but as a childhood trauma survivor, I am still learning what I enjoy and what my natural personal preferences are. When you deny me an opportunity to assess my desires, to decide what I like or don’t like, and tell you about it, you are denying me an opportunity for growth and healing on my recovery journey.

Opportunity #4: Exercising My Autonomy

When people decide for me that I can’t be somewhere, or don’t want to be there, they are taking away my autonomy. As a childhood trauma survivor and as a disabled person, my autonomy is very important to me. When you take away my autonomy, you take away my choices. When you take away my choices, you cause me to be far more limited than my disabilities will ever make me. It is important for me to be invited because it is important for me to be able to say “Yes” or “No” to that invitation. It is important for me to be given the ability to decline your invitation, if, in fact, I can’t or don’t want to be there. Able-bodied folks are given this opportunity, and I deserve it as well.

Declining to invite a disabled person to your social gathering isn’t just denying them that social opportunity. You are denying us opportunities to assess accessibility standards and personal capacity. You are denying us opportunities to communicate our needs, our desires, and our preferences. And you are denying us the opportunity to make our own decisions and choices. Before you decide inviting your disabled friend is too much effort, consider what you take away from them when you make that decision for them.

Getty photo by monkey business images.

Originally published: August 23, 2021
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home