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5 things about invisible disabilities you need to know

February 15, 2017

Imagine having a disability but being called a faker, or lazy because people couldn’t ‘see’ it. Here are five things about invisible disabilities you need to know.

Last year you might have read our blog where we tackled the disability parking debate – specifically how people with invisible disabilities are being targeted by parking vigilantes for ‘rorting’ the system.

But the discussion around invisible disabilities goes a lot deeper than the parking dispute. It’s a complex topic, but today we’re going to clear it up.

Here are five things about invisible disabilities you need to know.

Invisible disabilities are not rare

Nope, they’re really not. Millions of Australians live with a disability – and a surprising 90% of these people have what is called an invisible disability.

As the name suggests, invisible disabilities aren’t easy to spot and you can’t ‘tell’ they have a disability just by looking at them.

But there are many disabilities and conditions that are counted as ‘invisible’, such as MS, autism, ADHD, arthritis, brain injuries, mental illnesses, diabetes, epilepsy, cognitive and learning disabilities, chronic pain and fatigue… and the list goes on.

Some invisible disabilities will become more obvious once you get to know a person a bit better, but many may be completely hidden unless the person chooses to tell you.

Some of your fav celebs have an invisible disability

Did you know that some of the biggest stars that we all love and admire have invisible illnesses and disabilities?

It’s true – here are just a few examples: Selena Gomez has Lupus, Jack Osbourne has MS, Demi Lovato has bipolar disorder, Little Wayne has epilepsy, Morgan Freeman has a chronic pain condition (fibromyalgia), Richard Gere and Ben Stiller have had Lyme Disease, Halle Berry has diabetes, and Amanda Seyfried has anxiety.

One thing’s for sure: this hasn’t stopped any of these people from carving out a successful career in their chosen fields. The best bit: they have chosen to speak openly about their conditions, helping to raise awareness and combat stigma around invisible illness and disability.

People with invisible disabilities are not ‘faking it’

This one’s really important – because unfortunately people with invisible disabilities are often accused of faking or imagining their symptoms – the phrases “but you don’t look sick” or “you don’t look like you have a disability” are said far too often!

Imagine having a very real diagnosis, and being unable to convince people that you’re not just a ‘hypochondriac’, or ‘being lazy’? Wouldn’t be nice would it. For these people, being met with scepticism that they’re legit is one of the hardest things of all.

And what makes this worse, is it actually also stops people from talking about their disability or downplaying their own experiences – which just perpetuates the invisibility and stigma even more!

So while it can be very easy to think, ‘I had something similar and I just got over it’ or ‘it can’t be that bad’, remember there can be a lot more to what’s going on than meets the eye.

Accessible toilets are not just for people who use a wheelchair

There are actually so many reasons why someone who doesn’t ‘look like they have a disability‘ might need to use the accessible toilet – and they shouldn’t be given death stares for doing so, or feel like they need to explain themselves.

For example, maybe they have a colostomy bag (where bowel motions are collected in a disposable bag) and need the extra space and running water. Maybe they have an inflammatory bowel disease, and are finding it difficult to hold on. Or maybe they have a disability that makes balancing tricky and they need to use hand rails.

Whatever the reason – all these people have the right to use the accessible amenities. So before you roll your eyes next time someone skips the bathroom queue for the accessible toilet, just remember that it’s not just those with physical disabilities who need these facilities.

Also remember, while it’s not illegal to use one an accessible toilet if you don’t have a disability, if you don’t need to use one, leave them free for those who do.

Same goes for accessible parking

Last year we wrote a whole blog on accessible parking, and boy did it stir up some opinions! For anyone that missed it – while it’s illegal to park in an accessible parking space without a permit (and you’ll be up for a hefty fine if you do) some people have taken it upon themselves to become parking vigilantes.

The issue here is that these vigilantes think they’re doing the right thing by catching people out, but they often misread the situation – shaming those with invisible disabilities of cheating the system despite having an appropriate permit.

But there are so many reasons why someone might need a more accessible space than a wheelchair (think: prosthetic limb, breathing difficulties, mobility issues, etc).

So don’t try and police the parking spaces yourself – leave it up to those who are qualified to do so.


Find out more about disability services at House with No Steps.