The saying “You Can’t Judge A Book By Its Cover” has a literal meaning for those of us with invisible physical disabilities and challenges.
When people think of the term disability, they mostly picture people in wheelchairs or those using walkers or canes. Those little blue signs designating special parking and larger (usually cleaner) bathrooms are distinctly labeled; wheelchair users can park or pee there.
These assistive devices symbolize to the world that the person using them has either a temporary or permanent physical disability. They are treated differently.
The summer before I started high school (in the dark ages before internet and iPhones) I had a major operation on both of my legs and had to wear two leg casts and be in a wheelchair for 6 months. It sucked, to say the least.
My best friend Stacie used to push me around the hallways at school and the mall on weekends. People would either stare or avoid eye contact altogether. People who weren’t that nice felt obligated to be nice because of the wheelchair.
I could sense people’s pity; being the object of pity is a powerless, crappy feeling.
Of course, I was only visibly disabled for a short time and cannot possibly understand what it’s like to be a long-term wheelchair user.
After I had the leg casts removed, I could walk and looked like a “regular” teenager again. My physical disability was no longer obvious and became an invisible disability.
On the Invisible Disabilities Organization website, they quote an SAAP 1994/1995 study that states, 1 in 10 Americans have a severe disability. Out of those with physical disabilities, only 74% use a cane, walker, or wheelchair.
Those of us with Invisible Physical Disabilities and challenges have a unique set of challenges. For example:
I could easily fall on my ass in a slippery parking lot but rarely use a handicap space for two reasons:
- I feel guilty – What if someone with a wheelchair doesn’t have a place to park? I can walk. Am I just being lazy?
- I will be judged – I will get a dirty look, rude comment or accusatory note on my car from ‘REAL’ disabled people and/or their advocates.
I love this fabulous illustration by Amber from Colitis Ninja. http://www.colitisninja.com
Although Amber’s graphic refers to Invisible Illnesses, people with Invisible physical disabilities can easily input our own “What You Don’t See” at the bottom.
As a teenager, mine would have been:
- Scars on each foot
- Surgically implanted pins on each ankle fusing them in place
Today, I would add,
- Two leg braces up to my knees
- Hands that can’t write or do buttons
- Bruises from tripping
Tell us what people see and don’t see when they look at you.