By Victoria Mejicanos, Nov. 22, 2022
Depending on your experiences in life, disability may be a totally foreign concept, or something that makes you uncomfortable to think about. When you hear it, you may imagine a person in a wheelchair, or someone who uses other obvious aids to live their day-to-day life. Although this is the case for some disabled people, it’s not the same for every disabled person.
There are so many different examples of invisible disabilities but as someone who has multiple unseen disabilities, and has family with them, I have so many things I want to share.
First off, disability isn’t a bad word. Don’t shy away from the words disabled, disability or disorder. These are correct terms and not offensive. Personally, I find it more offensive when I hear “differently abled” or being referred to as “someone who has a different ability.”
Everyone has a different ability to do things. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, things they are good or bad at. Students in a different major might have less of a background that prepares them to write an article than I do, for example.
Using the term “differently abled” simplifies the word disabled so that people are comfortable, and it minimizes my experience as someone who has had to navigate life differently than the average person. It also re-enforces the unhealthy idea that there is a correct and “normal” way to do things. It makes the word disability taboo, and it shouldn’t be.
Secondly, being disabled is part of someone’s identity, but it doesn’t make them who they are. Just because I’m disabled, it doesn’t mean that’s all I am. I’m a whole person, with an array of identities, and disability just happens to be one of them. Some of my smartest, most creative friends have disabilities just like me, but it’s never the first thing I think of when I see them.
I don’t share what disabilities I have with a lot of people because there’s been a ridiculous amount of times I’ve told someone I think I can trust, and they look at me in shock and awe, lower their eyes and say, “I’m so sorry,” as if I’ve told them my puppy just died.
With this information, students might be wondering what they can do to help. It all starts with educating yourself about what it means to be disabled. Investigate what range of invisible disabilities there are, and their symptoms.
If you happen to know someone who is disabled, feel free to ask them about their experience, but do so with mindfulness, and know that there is no spokesperson for disabled people, because disability affects everyone differently. Lastly, even though it’s hard, please don’t make harmful assumptions about people.
For example, there are people who might seem like they’re never listening, but they could have ADHD and need to hear reminders or review certain concepts multiple times before they can grasp what you just said.
There are people on the autism spectrum that can talk for ages about a subject they’re interested in, not realizing that they aren’t being heard. Or, they might say something that sounds inappropriate, not because they mean to be inappropriate, but because they genuinely don’t understand what’s appropriate and what isn’t.
Overall, if I could talk to anyone who’s ever stared at me or a disabled person I love who is confused, I would tell them to spare their judgment and have compassion.
I have many neurodivergent friends and family members, and I grew up around people with physical disabilities like mine, all with varying severities. Just because someone “looks normal” but walks a little differently, or they say things that are off topic or not appropriate for a given situation doesn’t mean you have the right to look at them like a zoo animal. They’re probably already thinking way too much about how to make you comfortable anyway.
People with disabilities aren’t going anywhere, and they don’t owe anyone an explanation. They are valid and should be able to take up space in society without feeling like an inconvenience.
Feature image by Lauren Wong
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