World Health Organization defines disability as a restriction or lack of ability to perform an activity in the manner or within the range considered normal for a human being. Most often, disability is associated solely with whether or not a person uses assistive equipment/technology – wheelchair, crutches, hearing aid etc. However, it is imperative to acknowledge that disability can take a variety of forms and while visible disabilities are familiar to most people, invisible disabilities have equally grave consequences for the people living with them.
An invisible or hidden disability is any physical, mental or emotional impairment that is not immediately apparent. Invisible disabilities have a potentially devastating impact on the lives of PwDs, however, due to its ‘invisible’ nature, the reality of the disability becomes extremely difficult for others to recognize. Most people fail to acknowledge invisible disabilities unless they are able to see an evidence of it. Invisible disabilities include but are not restricted to hearing impairment, visual impairment, chronic pain, epilepsy, learning difficulties, rheumatoid arthritis, psychiatric disabilities like depression, ADHD, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia etc. Since these disabilities are not obvious to the eye, they have a higher probability of being misunderstood and overlooked.
Every year, 3 December is celebrated as International Day of Persons with Disabilities and the 2020 theme for the day was ‘Not all disabilities are visible’. World Disability Day 2020 reflected on how invisible disabilities are either not talked about or are misinterpreted and emphasized on mainstreaming them in conversations around disability. There exists a notion of judging and concluding what a person can or cannot do by the way they look and this makes it essential to understand that how a person appears to be may not always reflect the disability the person might be living with.
The fear of being discriminated and recognized only by their ‘disability’ is the foremost reason as to why most PwDs tend to restrict themselves from disclosing their disability – invisible or otherwise. The very fact that invisible disabilities are not obvious to the onlooker results in people with invisible disabilities being accused of faking or imagining their disabilities. The ‘invisible’ nature of the disability translates to a greater need for creating consciousness and changing the perspective towards this discourse. The doing away of social stigma around disability and attempting to be more accommodating and accepting of the distinctive challenges faced by PwDs is how we can make a way forward to a more inclusive society.
‘Everyone who is disabled looks disabled’ is a significant misconception that most people live by and hence, it becomes extremely crucial to be aware of and informed about the sensitivity of the discourse around invisible disability and refrain from adopting the attitude of ‘..oh but you look completely fine.’