please don’t forget that while people with invisible disabilities struggle to get their conditions recognised, people with visible disabilities struggle BECAUSE their conditions are recognised. people with…
So, my disabilities are invisible. I attend a day program, as I’ve mentioned before, that offers art classes and free studio time/materials to disabled adults.
I have friends there who are visibly disabled (by which I don’t necessarily mean ‘wheelchair’— a lot of people with cognitive disabilities attend, where you can tell by looking at them or by a brief interaction that they are disabled, even when it’s not a severe one), and when I was first set up to attend classes at the center and use their resources, I was really worried that there would be a lot of infighting, that I would be ostracized as ‘not disabled enough’ because my disability only becomes visible if I have a complete meltdown (or on the rare occasions that I do need to borrow a cane or chair, but that’s very rare).
Anyway, I was worried that people would see me as different and not want me around, because that’s basically what I’ve been used to all my life coming from the other direction, but it’s been really great, almost everyone’s sort of a unified front. My local disabled community, at least, does not care how disabled you are, or how you are disabled. Not that there aren’t exceptions to the rule, but by and large, it has been a welcoming environment where people talk candidly about what life is like and we sort of roll our eyes about dealing with the rest of the world to each other because we all get it at some level.
And here’s the thing that I’ve come to learn from being a part of a greater disabled community where people with a wide variety of physical, developmental, and cognitive disabilities work together every day:
There are privileges to having both visible and invisible disabilities, with regards to the opposite. It’s a different set of ‘privileges’, if you can call it that when we’re all still disabled.
If your disability is invisible, it’s true that you don’t have to deal with the same kind of stares on the street, but it’s also harder to get services— which you still need, because you’re still disabled, and there are so many things that aren’t set up to accommodate you, so many doctors’ appointments to keep track of or medications to pay for or things you still can’t do for yourself but that need to be done.
If your disability is visible, people (including doctors!) don’t tell you you’re ‘crazy’/’making it up’ when you try to describe your experience, when you try to get help/understanding.
And yet, once you have a diagnosis, people will still often dictate how you should be treated based on your disability, and impose their opinions on person first language on you without listening to you.
Like, we all have different sets of pluses and minuses if you’re stacking disabilities against each other, but at the end of the day, a lot of our struggles are the same, and even where they aren’t, many are similar.
Pain is pain, fatigue is fatigue. Things like anxiety, depression, impulse control problems, and cognitive function impairments can affect people with many different kinds of disability. And you can be crippled by those things, and by a society that ignores your needs. Not all invisible disabilities are purely mental/emotional, there are physical ones too, and they leave ‘healthy looking’ people lying in their beds some days wracked with pain and barely able to move, but you could also see that same person pushing their cart through the grocery store and smiling and have no idea. And that person isn’t the opposite or enemy to someone who needs to be in a wheelchair every day, they’re someone who’s in the same big boat.
I guess over the past year I have had the chance to learn more about being a crew member on that same big boat, and I don’t think it’s fair to say that— based purely on whether or not their disability is visible— someone else’s life is so much worse than mine. In part because my struggles are real and I refuse to be made to feel like I don’t belong in this place I’ve found and that I don’t deserve to complain when my own brain dumps that kind of toxic message on me all the time, but also because I know these people around me. Five hours a day, five days a week, I work side by side with, talk to, wait for the bus with, eat lunch with, laugh with people who are playing life on a high difficulty setting, but who are still finding things to love about it. They go out, and they fall in love, and they make it through the struggles they have with the people who care about them, and I would be a condescending asshole to say that on that one factor, they have worse lives than I do, when what I hear from them is that they aren’t letting themselves be held back from the lives they want.