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Inspiration for living a luxuriously and balanced life

Monday, May 10, 2010

Invisible Disabilities

Leaving the airport on our recent Paris trip, brought to light just how uneducated Customer Service People can be. As the announcement went over the speakers for persons with small children or needing assistance to please start boarding – Mr. G. and I made our way to the gate. As I approached – the woman at the gate looked me up and down before saying “small children and those needing assistance ONLY” – what made her think that I didn’t need assistance? Had she just taken my boarding pass and punched in my name – she would have discovered that I should be sitting in a wheelchair (however, I always check the distance from check in to gate prior to flying – and if its short or I know it has the people movers, I usually opt to give it a try – I don’t like the looks one gets when being wheeled about or if the airport golf-cart is transporting you around). So, after I pointed out that perhaps she should look at my boarding pass – she looked up- humbly – as I said “yes, I’m suppose to use a wheelchair – and need extra time to get seated”.

After speaking with one of my care team members about this and being informed that many people even with slight visible disabilities encounter these challenges, I decided to look into it a little more. My findings and personal encounters have resulted in this post - for two reasons:

1) let others that may be in a similar situation – know they are not alone!

2) educate people that invisible disabilities exist

People with invisible disabilities look like everyone else, only we struggle to manage everyday life. When it comes to ABI and physical impairments, even when the condition is truly disabling, the average person would not be able to recognize this. Contrary to myth, most disabilities are not apparent to the untrained eye – making the disability effectively known as an “invisible disability”.

For anyone who has an invisible disability life becomes even more challenging, as people often do not give you the help you need. Like the seat on crowed public transit; the help you need in a fitting room; making sure you remember to eat or feed the family pet; make sure you don’t over exert yourself; offer to accompany you shopping; or just offer to come over to sit and keep you company.

Then there is the added anxiety: the seats on public transit that are for disabled or elderly are a wonderful idea, but if someone who looks ‘normal’ sits in them they worry in case an obviously disabled person gets on the bus/subway. Even though they have a Legal Accessible parking permit – parking in an Accessible parking spot and the reaction some people give them can be just as painful as the reason why use of such a spot is required. Asking for help to carry groceries to the car – this one always baffles me – I had one cashier ask me “why do you need help, didn’t you put the groceries in the cart?” –hmm “yes! But they all went in one by one – not altogether in that heavy bag you have now created!” I responded. I really wanted to ask if she had an ABI.

Just because you see someone at the grocery store pushing a cart, don't assume that they're not being truthful about being disabled. For all you really know, after making a short trip to the store, they may be flat on their back when they get home, and in a considerable amount of discomfort. Or just because someone is having a “good day” and has managed to dress themselves stylishly – don’t assume they’re really not injured – Fashionistas are not exempt from ABIs or physical and emotional injuries. You can’t “see” the disability of a person who has depression, anxiety, fibromyalgia or migraines - an invisible disability cannot be seen, but it does exist!

In this day and age, it still really baffles me that a person with a physical disability should have to possess a limp, or a person with an ABI disability should have to carry on a conversation with themselves in public before a non-disabled person can accept that a disability, in fact, exists.


  1. Well said! I used to drive my gran around on Fridays so she could do all her errands. She had a card for the car so we could park in the wheelchair spots. She was old enough that no one would give it a second thought but I used to get dirty nasty looks if she was at one end of the mall and the car was at the other and I would run out to bring the car around to the door she was closest to. Once some woman even told me off for using the card and taking the wheelchair spot!

  2. What a thought provoking post. We are all guilty of taking things at face value at times. It would be a much nicer world if we all helped each other - then any one with a disability would feel no different to anyone else. Thanks for making me stop and think. xxx

  3. Wow. So glad you're sharing this information. I don't want to take up all your comment space talking about this issue, but I've had similar incidents ... it's embarrassing and infuriating. Sounds like you handled it well!

  4. Well hello there well-heeled lady! Thank you for coming by to visit with our resident robin, Mrs. Robinson!!!! We are having fun watching her as she prepares for her little babies.

    Your writing is exquisite, and so polished! I am honored that one with your skill would bother to come visit me! I am not able to put as much time as I would like into my writing these days, being a school teacher, but it is sure fun to sit down and try to compose something. I can learn a lot from you!

    Thank you for coming!!! Anita

  5. i don't see why any disability needs to be
    justified to anyone. it burns me up, really.

    one of our good friends had two botched
    knee surgeries and is crippled at times.

    sometimes he can get around. that doesn't
    change the way he feels when he can't!

    i wish you would publish your eloqently
    written piece in "the journal" or the "times."

    so sorry.


  6. This is a wonderful post. Everyone needs reminders at times and you handled the situation very gracefully.
    Wishing you a beautiful weekend. xoxo, B

  7. Compassion and civility is so important as we all deal with one another. As a person 10 years post brain stem stroke who still has significant challenges, I am pleased when someone does not see that I have balance, coordination, pain,strength,and vision problems. It means I have come a long way in my recovery. On the other hand, some days I do need extra help. I have had very few unpleasant incidents, fortunately, and find that if I try to remain calm and explain that I've had a stroke and need some help, most people back down apologetically and offer to help. This explaining does hurt my pride somewhat, but I have had to accept that this is now part of my "new" reality.I suppose people are outraged because non-disabled do park in handicapped spots, etc and sometimes take advantage.The outraged are trying to help protect the disabled, but in a very "warlike" way. There seems to be so much anger in the world now looking for a chance to vent. If only we could all treat each other with respect for the inherent dignity in every person.

    So glad you were able to have your Paris trip! How are you feeling after your adventure? xx

  8. Hi Isabelle Anne, I tried to repond to your comment via email - but was not able to locate an email for you. Thank you for your kind words and encouragement. I too am grateful when my situation is not detectable - its just when I'm needing help and hvae to explain the whole reasoning why ... I really miss my indepedent self.

    Paris, really had an impact on me - it was very spirtitually fullfiling - and I'm already planning a return trip. The next trip will be more in the country side - less traffic and people rushing about.

    Again thank you so much for your sweet words.

  9. The nerve of that woman!!

    I have seen televised examples of when people have verbally attacked a person who didn't seem disabled. for using a handicapped space. The attack was pretty brutal. It must be so difficult to have a disability and then have to prove you have it. Awful.

    Really important post and wonderful reminders.
    Thank you, HHL.

  10. This is an excellent post, and I agree! I am glad you were able to stand up for yourself on this one!

  11. There's a lot of ignorance, misinformation and misperception in society and this is a perfect example.

    It's unfortunate that you have to at times validate your disability (it's a word I hesitate to use at the best of times, certainly in your case as your determination is quite frankly inspiring).

    I'm a firm advocate moreso than ever of learning compassion; if we don't know another's circumstances who are we to judge? Who are we to judge under any circumstances?

  12. Fantastic post, Thank you for sharing your experience . I guess all of us have a lot of ignorance and we have to learn from each other every day


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