Today, December 3, is International Day of People with Disabilities (IDPWD), an annual United Nations-sanctioned day that is celebrated around the world. Its aim is to promote the rights and well-being of people with disabilities internationally. In Canada, 22 per cent of the population aged 15 years and over — that’s 6.2 million individuals — reported having one or more disabilities that limited them in their daily activities. The 2020 theme of IDPWD is ‘Not All Disabilities Are Visible.’ Here are three things you need to know about invisible disabilities.
Not all disabilities are visible
What is an invisible disability? The Invisible Disabilities Association defines invisible disability as “a physical, mental or neurological condition that is not visible from the outside, yet can limit or challenge a person’s movements, sense or activities.” There are thousands of illnesses and disorders that are considered invisible, including but not limited to: diabetes, chronic pain, hearing and eyesight impairments, psychiatric conditions such as anxiety disorders or major depression, learning disabilities, attention-deficit disorder (ADD) and much, much more.
Leave behind ableist language.
Invisible disabilities are just as real as visible ones
The Invisible Disabilities Association explains the challenges with having an invisible disability best: “the very fact that these symptoms are invisible can lead to misunderstandings, false perceptions and judgements.” For example, it’s largely reported that folx with invisible disabilities struggle on whether to “tick the box” and disclose that information to employers. While it can be helpful to do this in order to receive accommodations in the workplace — such as modified work hours or working from home — people with invisible disabilities also have to consider discrimination, being labelled and the constant pressure to prove their disability is real.
You can help
There are ways you can help. One of the most important: leave behind ableist language. For example, don’t say you have OCD if you like to clean or that you’re having a panic attack if your bae won’t text you back. This delegitimizes the life experience of folx who actually have diagnosed OCD or panic disorder. Be aware of personal space. Speak clearly, listen well. Educate yourself on invisible disabilities. Show compassion and understanding. Be patient.