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4 Texts That Get It Right About Invisible Disabilities

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By Linda Williams, Ph.D. & Monica Slabaugh

1. Canceling plans.

It happens. Invisible disabilities may be unseen, but they aren’t unfelt or unreal. They are, however, unpredictable. One moment, our body tell us game on; and the next, it’s curled up on the sofa, and it’s not going anywhere today. Bodily diversity and neurodiversity need flexible structures, allies, and partnerships. Go with the flow.

"On my way to pick you up. Be there in a few!" "Sorry, I'm exhausted, I don't think I'm up for it any more. I know I confirmed, but I just can't tonight... Really sorry. (sad face emoji)" "Hey, don't apologize. You're tired, and it's OK to say 'no.' We'll invite you again next time. Since I'm already on my way, what can I bring you?"

2. Accessibility matters.

Asking about accessibility may not always have been front and center on our minds. But now, it is. And if it’s not on yours, it should be. It is part of the everyday language we use, and exists in the social world around us. It’s not a formality. It’s not about following a rule. It’s equitable, and it’s the right thing to do. Public and social spaces may not be built for all bodies and all people. But all bodies and all people have a right to exist in the world as they are. So check in about accommodations often, OK?

"Hey everyone, I'm organizing our study group! Meet at The Treehouse Coffee Shop? 6:30?" "Love that place! But since we all just met, let's make sure that works for everyone. I know it's really loud and crowded, with a lot of stairs." "Thanks for asking! It would be impossible for me to hear at the Treehouse."

"And besides, they don't have an elevator - which just isn't cool. Could we relocate?" "Of course! Know a good place?"

3. Calling out ableism.

We know able-bodied privilege is real, and it’s everywhere. Body privilege is strong and pervasive, and it can momentarily make someone forget (or ignore) the fact that they coexist with diverse bodies and minds. Intentional or not, ableism rears its ugly head all the time, and we’ve got to call it out. Our health and our identities are at stake, so be real with your allies. That’s how we shape a new culture.

"Molly... Do you realize that you outed me in front of all of our new teammates tonight? Disclosure about my bipolar disorder is MY choice. Not yours. Want to be an ally? Don't speak for me, don't speak over me, don't silence me." "Woah! I'm sorry, I feel terrible..."

"You feel terrible? This isn't about how you feel right now. You need to recognize why making this decision for me was NOT ok. It's my decision when, how, and with whom I share MY disability. My disability belongs to me." "Got it. I want to talk to you about this in person. This is important." "Let's do that."

4. Pause and ask. Sometimes that’s enough.

When something just doesn’t seem right, it’s easy to jump for the low hanging fruit: the social biases like laziness, failure, lack of motivation or productivity, selfishness. Slow down. Pause, and ask, “is there something unseen going on?” When we pause, we release those biases, and we create a safe environment to have a conversation. This conversation is mutually consensual, and the person disclosing feels safe to say as much or as little as necessary to provide information, form a bond, or gain greater intimacy in the relationship.

"Dude, are you ok? The team says you just need to man up. But I know you better...something's up. Is there something going on? I'm here if you want to talk." "Well... I've never mentioned this, but I've got Crohn's. I'm in a bad flare up." "Glad you told me. A flare up... that sounds really difficult. I want to help in any way that I can, and that you need."

Learn more at Invisible Disability Project.

The Mighty is asking the following: What is a part of your or a loved one’s disease, disability or mental illness that no one is aware of? Why is it time to start talking about it? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Originally published: June 28, 2016
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