Hidden disabilities include any which, as their name suggests, aren’t readily apparent. Chronic fatigue, depression, anxiety, epilepsy — all fall under this category and affect millions of people on a daily basis.
I’m one of those people. I have a vision impairment, but don’t wear dark glasses, walk with an assistance dog, or use a white cane. If you saw me out and about, you honestly might not realize I had an impairment at all. (Ditto for my mental health issues.)
But my disabilities are still very much there, impacting my functioning in a variety of small and large ways that others might not realize.
A good example: When my daughter was about three months old, I decided to take the bus out to do some shopping (a big deal for me after all those weeks at home postpartum). Our bus service requires parents to fold strollers before entering, so I had a tiny baby in one arm and precariously-closed bulky piece of wheeled plastic in the other. I was afraid that, given my poor depth perception, I might drop my daughter while going up the deep steps of the bus, so I asked to use the wheelchair lift.
The bus driver very begrudgingly operated it for me, then jerked his thumb in the direction of a minuscule sign above his head. “Ma’am, don’t you see what this says?”
“No, sir,” I whispered, feeling hormonal and shamed and ready to cry. “I can’t read it. I’m vision impaired.”
“Well, it says the lift is only for people with disabilities.”
(You’d better believe that after I had my good cry, I called his supervisor at the transit company.)
That wasn’t an isolated incident, either. I frequently get questioned about “just what exactly” my disability is when I request preboarding on airline flights. And I know others have faced even worse, like hostile notes placed on their car windshields questioning their right to park in disabled spaces, even though they have a valid permit, just because they look able-bodied.
When you feel yourself about to make a similar judgment, please just stop. We don’t know the battles our comrades on this life journey are facing, and it’s not our place to make assumptions. If anything, it’s our job to give each other the benefit of the doubt and do what we can to make the struggle easier.
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