illustration by Ellie
illustration by Ellie

Invisible disabilities are disabilities that are not always recognizable by looking at someone. These can be physical disabilities, mental disabilities, or a combination of both. The concept of invisible disabilities is in conjunction with the common misconception of disabilities being visible and what a disabled person is, or should “look like”. What Invisible disabilities “look like” are also often gendered. For example, depression and eating disorders are often gendered as feminine, therefore it is less common for Men with eating disorders or depression to be diagnosed and treated.

One of the biggest misconceptions is that a disabled person should have an assistive device such as a wheelchair. This misconception is especially problematic in relation to invisible disabilities, and it is inaccurate. A majority of disabled indivduals do not use an assistive device. When someone with an invisible disability uses an elevator or parks in the handicap spot they often face social sanctions such as dirty looks or questioning.

An official definition of Invisible Disabilities from the Invisible Disabilities Association (IDA) I found is that they, “Refer to symptoms such as debilitating pain, fatigue disorders, as well as hearing and vision impairments. These are not always obvious to the onlooker, but can sometimes or always limit daily activities, range from mild challenges to severe limitations and vary from person to person.”

A lot of the misconceptions surrounding disability can be attributed to the representations of disabilities in the government, legislation, the media, schools, and doctors. Although the majority of disabled individuals do not use an assistive device, the handicapped symbol is depicted as a person in a wheelchair. It is not often that handicapped people are depicted in films, but when they are they usually do have an assistive device. The official symbol for being handicapped features an assistive device. There is no education on these disabilities and how to be sensitive to them in schools. This leaves the definition to be formed by society and based off of misrepresentations in the media and legislation.

Invisible disabilities include but are not limited to ADHD, Narcolepsy, Epilepsy, Eating Disorders, Body Dysmorphia, Depression, Anxiety Disorders, Allergies, Arachnoiditis, Asperger Syndrome, Multiple Sclerosis, Chronic Lyme Disease, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Macular Degeneration, Bipolar Disorder, Diabetes, Hypoglycemia, Lupus, and Fibromyalgia.

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May 14, 2013


LOVE the pic!!! The term “handicapped” is outdated to many, but I can handle it. People argue a lot about terms that come into and out of fashion. I’m so glad you wrote what you did. Wonderful!!! I have invisible disabilities too. Only 44 but going on 90 because of pain and sooo much fatigue. Arthritis, epilepsy and all the medication for it just weighs my body down, down, down. This is a terrific site. Keep on!

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