Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Invisible Disabilities

It's so easy to judge.  In fact, sometimes it's an important facet of survival.  Our instincts about people and situations have been honed over generations to help keep us alive.  Our guts tell us when to stay and when to run.  They aren't always *right* instincts, but they are there for a purpose.
Unfortunately, this innate ability to judge can come with a high cost.  We stop thinking, cease to remind ourselves that behind a facade is a human being.  Pain isn't always written on their face, the potential of pain and suffering never is.  But it's still there.
We've come a long ways since the days of witch hunts, where individuals with various physical limitations were cast out as damaged by the devil or "marked" by witches.  We understand genetics and at least some medical conditions and agree that there are currently limits to medical science.  We see the person inside the body impeded by a wheelchair, put up signs in braille to help blind people find their dr's office in a large building, add ramps to buildings and paint curbs blue to make the world more accessible to those with limitations.
And yet we continue to judge.
We go on social media and rant about special snowflakes, we question the need for service animals for diabetics and epileptics and PTSD survivors.  We critique slow movers, and slow learners, and motorized scooter users.  We fail to see the person inside the every day individuals who are struggling.
We look at smiles and automatically, we see healthy individuals.  We don't know what's going on inside, but we assume that they have resources.  Can walk to the corner, volunteer an hour at the PTA fundraiser, make a few phone calls.  We assume that their resistance to any of these things is purely personal.
And sometimes it is.
But sometimes, there are deeper set objections.
People with food allergies may be reluctant to participate in food related affairs.  Maybe that's reasonable and maybe it's not, but they are the ones managing their symptoms and living with the consequences.
People with digestive disorders have unique needs and may be unreliable.
People with chronic pain may not be able to stand for 20 minutes at a time, or drive the carpool at the last minute, or might need to cancel plans so they can take a stronger pain killer, or just can't participate because their personal limitations have adjusted.
Some people may need help lifting groceries or children, or struggle to push a cart but otherwise look perfectly healthy.
However, we miss these problems because when people with limitations take care of themselves, they often appear "normal".

That, I think, may be the problem.  In our society, we have no problem helping those who are suffering.  What we struggle with is understanding that many of our accommodations and support systems are in place to prevent as much suffering as possible.  So, no, the lady with a rod in her back doesn't look like she's in constant agony.  But if she were to lean over and pull the cans of soup out of the bottom of her cart, she would be.
The person with dietary restrictions isn't laid up in bed every day, but only because they are managing their diet.  They aren't trying to spoil donut day.

When someone needs accommodations to function normally and appear "normal"; they have invisible disabilities.  It doesn't mean that they are any less of a person, just that they need to be a stronger self advocate.  It might also mean that they don't know exactly what they need to be successful, they only know some of the potential pitfalls.

We need to learn to accept these limitations that we don't see.  Even as someone struggling with "invisible disabilities" raising kids with the same issues, I'm struck by the ever present conundrum:  Everyone has issues.  We're no one special.  Except, we are still people.  We aren't trying to ask a lot to be included (maybe permission to bring our own food)  We still have a lot to contribute to society.  But only if we can figure out how to navigate our way despite our limitations.

Now, when I see someone roll their eyes about a "lazy" or "irresponsible" individual, I wonder if there is something else going on.  And I try to accept it.
Building a better world is the end goal for all of us, right?

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