Invisible Disabilities


Do you ever feel as though your life experience is not very well understood by others?

Do you have a medical, physical, or mental condition that is not obvious to the outside world? We all are familiar with the handicapped parking signs in front of many places that we frequent, such as grocery stores and restaurants. The people that park in those spots are seemingly expected to have a visible disability. However, we cannot always see the disability that requires those signs and parking spots. 

What is an Invisible Disability?

According to the Invisible Disabilities Association, an invisible disability is defined as a “physical, mental, or neurological condition that is not visible from the outside, yet can limit or challenge a person’s movements, senses, or activities. Unfortunately, the very fact that these symptoms are invisible can lead to misunderstandings, false perceptions, and judgments” Invisible disabilities, just like those that are visible, lead to disruptions in the activities of daily living (ADLs) for those who are impacted. Examples of invisible disabilities can range from ADHD (learning and emotional disabilities) to Fibromyalgia (musculoskeletal). There is generally not a cut-and-dry cure, solution, or answer to living with an invisible disability.

The option to open and share a person’s experience of disability is not only a personal one but can have different impacts on the way a person is viewed and treated by others. The most recent ADA amendment (in 2008) protects individuals with disabilities from discrimination in the workplace. This hopefully encourages people to share their disabilities with their employers in order to get the  appropriate accommodations to fulfill their job descriptions.

 What Does This All Mean For Persons With Disabilities?

When someone is wheelchair-bound, it is well within their rights to ask their employer to add more wheelchair-accessible doorways to the office space or for a specific desk that accommodates their wheelchair. The 2008 amendment also covers invisible disabilities in the same regard. An example of an invisible disability accommodation request could be for a person with ADHD, where they request the accommodation to always have a fidget toy with them to enhance their focus or to take more frequent breaks as needed to effectively complete their job tasks.  

While this is a great protection, the choice to disclose has multiple factors to it. On one side, it can drastically alleviate stress and help build rapport with others, but on the other it could lead to unintended issues within social relationships at work. What this really means is that employers have the right to know an employee’s diagnosis (mental, physical, etc)., the prognosis and any reasonable accommodations that need to be made for them to work successfully.

 How Does This Affect People Without a Visible Disability?

 Unless a person blatantly discusses their disability, an invisible disability is one that could not be known. 

 The COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it more awareness of disabilities and increased self-report of invisible disabilities. Even though the current laws cover invisible disabilities, those same laws also have been historically in favor of visible disabilities. 

 So… What Can You Do About It? 

  1.  Be mindful of other peoples’ lived experiences, trust them when they tell you they have a disability
  2. Don’t invalidate someone’s disability simply because you can’t see it.
  3. Be kind to others, you never know what someone is going through unless they tell you 
  4. Respect peoples’ choices and boundaries, whether they choose to tell you their experiences or not 
  5. If you are struggling with a disability, make sure that you take care of yourself, medically, emotionally, and mentally.
  6. Know that you can always see a therapist to process your experience and work on how to navigate the world around you. 

There are a lot forms of disability in the world. A person can range from having no disability to having one or more disabilities. The word disability encompasses physical, medical, emotional, mental, developmental, visible, and invisible conditions. Just because people around you cannot see the struggles that you are experiencing does not mean that it isn’t real. 

Interested in processing your experience and ready to work on how to navigate the world around you? Give us a call or email us today for an appointment at 217-203-2008!