October 14th-20th 2019 marked Invisible Disabilities Week. An invisible disability is one that might go unnoticed if you weren’t told about a person’s condition. These can include things like fibromyalgia, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, brain injuries, chronic fatigue, arthritis and POTS (postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome). You might also hear these referred to as chronic illnesses as they remain relatively constant and might be long-term.
Some people with invisible disabilities may, from time to time, use some form of aid that means their condition is more visible. For instance, I use a walking stick to help me stay balanced and for me to lean on when one or both of my legs decide not to cooperate, as part of my fibromyalgia. However, when such a person doesn’t use an aid, they still face a lot of the difficulties they would when they do require such an aid, but with none of the acceptance and understanding. It is worth saying now that as a young person, even when I use my walking stick, I still get glared at on the very odd occasion that I take a priority seat on a bus or take my time walking down the street.
But, for instance, if you cannot make it to something or you can’t put your normal level of effort in because of a flare-up of a condition, you’re branded as lazy or unreliable or flaky. People should be more aware that others might need to manage their condition or prioritise different things as trying to meet other people’s standards of health isn’t sustainable. If you can’t make it to 9am lectures because of your condition, it’s not the same as being lazy. Or if you could make it to that lecture but couldn’t focus, it’s not the same as not trying or not paying attention. Sometimes, the best decision for a person with an invisible disability may seem odd to you but might mean that they can still function for the next few days or that they can avoid unnecessary hassle.
Don’t get me wrong – things are getting better for people with invisible disabilities. It’s now easier to apply for Blue Badges to allow us to get around, stickers in trains and buses are more encompassing and venues up and down the country are training their staff to be more understanding of those with invisible disabilities. However, on the whole, society’s attitudes towards invisible disability have a long way to go. The expectation that a young, ‘healthy-looking’ person will always be healthy is harmful and degrading. Expectations like this one leave people like me stuck somewhere between being ‘healthy’ and ‘disabled’, permanently feeling invalidated by my condition’s existence.
I became Disabilities Officer for SUSU so that I could help to reduce these feelings of invalidation in other people like me. In some way, I am sure that having the words Disabilities Officer emblazoned on my hoodie will make me feel a little more valid in myself. In the meantime, awareness events like these will help to educate those around us and make life a little easier for those affected.
If you want to get in touch with feedback or any issues you have (or even just fancy a chat), feel free to message me on Facebook or contact Laura Barr (VP Welfare).