Can-Do-Ability: Answers and Solutions from my personal experiences of living with a disability

The importance of thinking before you speak

10 Nov 2015I recently read an article on invisible illnesses that got me thinking about all the times I've had to explain myself to people regarding my disability.

From a quick look at me you might not be able to tell that I have a disability, but it's visible if you know what to look for. I wear Ankle Foot Orthosis (AFOs) on my legs usually obscured by long pants and I have difficulty straightening my fingers. But apart from these things I look just like everyone else.

This positive side of this is that I'm usually treated no differently than anyone else. I don't have to deal with people pitying me or telling me I'm an inspiration, common among people that have a visible disability. The negative side unfortunately is the same as the positive; I'm usually treated no differently than anyone else.

I receive judging looks, rude questions, and demands from others who feel that I should or shouldn't be doing something. Problems usually arise from:
  • Using a disability parking spot.

  • Walking down steps slower than those around me.

  • Sitting in the disability accessible seating area on buses or trains.

  • Even for not helping people move their luggage around, on, or off public transport.

The problem is everyone is too busy or involved with their own life they often don't stop to think about the situation. I'm not completely immune to this behaviour either.

This morning when I hopped on the bus all the accessible seating at the front of the bus was taken, which is unusual. I looked at the guys in those seats for any signs of illness, injury or disability. I thought to myself, They're probably just sitting there for convenience and don't actually need that seat, they should move.

The difference is I thought about the situation before I said anything. I know they could have a reason for sitting in that seat beyond convenience. So I left it alone.

In an effort to spread awareness of this problem a man by the name of Stephen Walker has spoken out. Stephen has Crohn's disease and decided to show people the disability he has hiding under his short. In a post on Facebook calling for empathy he explains that just because he looks healthy doesn't mean he is.

You can read about Stephen's story in this article from 9News.

I think a good way of getting people to empathise with those of us that have a permanent disability is by making it relatable to them. I like this analogy from about understanding invisible illnesses and I think it puts the situation into perspective.

We have all been sick or injured before, be it a cold or flu, or aches and pains. To fix this we might take medication, try to get some rest, or simply withdraw from the world for a few days. No one judges us by actions or weaknesses during this time and they're often more helpful as well. But like most healthy people, you'll recover and move on with your life.

Now imagine that your cold or flu, or aches and pains never went away. Imagine what it would feel like to know there is no cure and you could be like this forever. How would you explain to other people that you are actually sick or injured even though you look perfectly fine.

These issues are daily occurrences for those with a disability that isn't visible.

So are your experiences the same as mine? How have you responded to people when they say, But, you don't look disabled?

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