Invisible Disabilities and Empathy

The Invisible Disabilities Association defines invisible disability as a “physical, mental or neurological condition that limits a person’s movements, senses, or activities that is invisible to the onlooker.” Because seeing is so often believing, those with invisible disabilities are often doubted or dismissed because they don’t look disabled. If a person tells you he or she has a disability, here is some simple advice for expressing empathy:

Take them at their word
You likely encounter people every day who are disabled but do not appear so. That’s because the majority of disabled people do not use tell-tale devices such as wheelchairs. Therefore, when a family member, friend, colleague, or stranger says he/she has diabetes, depression, or epilepsy — believe that person. You do not and cannot know what someone is experiencing on the inside.

Empathy, not sympathy
The difference matters. Those living with invisible (and visible!) disabilities want understanding and awareness, not pity. Educate yourself on the limitations that accompany the different invisible disabilities and know what you can do to provide support.

Ditch the assumptions
The invisible impact of these disabilities can lead some people to disbelieve or accuse the disabled of “faking it.” Widespread misconceptions that a person must look disabled to be disabled have created a culture of doubt surrounding invisible disability. Don’t be a skeptic. Disability does not discriminate based on age, race, gender, or other demographics.

Read more on invisible disabilities

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