Invisible. Most disabled people are invisible, or their disabilities are not seen. I will share with you some situations, to show you the contrast of invisible disabilities and the reality of the every-day life of people with challenges like that.
People who have poor eyesight and therefore often don’t notice when someone waves at them are often perceived as unfriendly. How must some autistic person feel, who often cannot recognise faces or read facial expressions? How is an autistic person perceived because of that?
Other examples show also, how we visualize disabled persons. Can you recognise people with ADHD? What do diabetes and epilepsy look like? What images do we automatically have in our minds? Is every depressed person crying?
Invisible. For a person with pain, it is a challenge to get up every day. No one sees the struggle of dealing with households, grocery shopping or going to work. When you have to stand in line at the canteen, when you want to open a can or a bottle and you cannot do it yourself.
Some diseases are not only invisible, but they also change in their extent. This makes it even harder to understand for outsiders. For instance, the supposedly disabled colleague went dancing at the weekend and a few days later she can barely walk. This is „normal“ for people with an autoimmune disease, whether it be multiple sklerosis, a type of rheumatoid arthritis or crohn`s disease.
Many people with fatigue or severe cases of illness are not seen because they can hardly participate in social life. The disability is invisible if you don’t go out for a drink after work. If you miss out on Plux ( see picture below, this is the Square the Luxemburg where young people meet after work every Thursday in Brussels), on Committee meetings, and on the Straßbourg trip, are you even a trainee?
One is simply not there.
Many forms of disability are rarely „found“ here in European Parliament and in the other institutions. This is not always due to visibility, but also to the fact that at the national level, many people do not get the education they need to end up here later as an employee. But there are also many people in our rows who do not show any signs of disability, but have some. Is it a young person using the elevator for only one floor, or is it the one with a FFP2 mask probably having a low immune system? Do you recognize or know them?
Also invisible are some disabilities because it is taboo to talk about them, or somehow feel uncomfortable or make others uncomfortable. This is for example where gender and disability intersect. You can talk openly about stomach aches or headaches – the pain becomes visible. Because everyone has experience to eat something bad or had a headache before and therefore can visualise it. But when 10% of women have an invisible disease that affects the uterus (for example endometriosis), it is hard to talk about it. Invisible diseases therefore also become invisible themselves and are hence often not diagnosed because people don’t even talk about them.
The common denominator, for all invisible illnesses, is that you depend on others to believe you. No one doubts the diagnosis of cancer. But people tend to doubt, what they can’t see.
Invisible, of course, are also the barriers for people with motoric and sensory (and thereby visible) disabilities. These are still perceived as the „classic“ or „real“ disabilities. I am talking here about people with the need for a wheelchair, blind people, deaf people and so on. There is still so much to be done, to make the environment accessible for them, although their disability is visible and people have actually heard of it before. (This is also sometimes a problem, since they never can hide it).
A pavement edge for wheelchair users is a problem, no matter how others perceive it. And so is the pain for a person with a chronical illness, or the fatigue, the side effects of medication, visits at the doctor, and so on.
But invisible are also the a-bilities that people with obvious disabilities have. Too often, people do not talk to wheelchair users themselves, but to their assistants (??!). Intelligent people are denied their abilities because those cannot be seen. What people then focus on is the obvious incapability and nothing else. One might need a ramp to enter a building, but has no lack of intelligence or competence.
Other skills that someone with learning disabilities brings with them also become invisible. Furthermore, these limitations are taken as a yardstick for everything, and many talents and potentials are taken away because one always has to be able to read, write and calculate equally well in school, while they might be a great singing talent or a great public speaker.
About illness, pain and things you can no longer do, like standing for 5 minutes, or opening a can. You remain invisible if you don’t point out loudly, rebelliously and with a lot of passion of what to improve to guarantee and improve equality and equal chances, and where there are still barriers.
On the street and in our heads.