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When your disabling condition is 'invisible'

Having a disability can inspire feelings of isolation and misunderstanding. Even though 11 million Americans currently receive Social Security Disability benefits due to their disabilities, it can sometimes feel like you are the only one struggling with a medical condition in the unique ways that you may be. This feeling can be exacerbated if you suffer from a so-called “invisible” medical condition.

Invisible medical conditions are those which are serious but are not easily identified by the naked eye. For example, if an individual has been diagnosed with cancer but has not yet begun to show symptoms of his or her illness that are clearly visible and identifiable by the outside world, this condition remains invisible. If an individual loses all of his or her hair due to chemotherapy, this condition no longer remains invisible. While showing physical symptoms of one’s disabling condition can feel isolating in numerous ways, being sick or injured and showing no outward signs can be isolating as well.

Recently, controversy developed during and following a Kanye West concert. West demanded that everyone in the crowd in his concert must stand up. He refused to perform until everyone was on their feet and signaled out individuals who had not stood up. He even sent a bodyguard out to verify that an individual was in a wheelchair before he would perform. This display of ignorance was appalling to many, including those whose disabilities are invisible.

Somehow, for West, proof of prosthetics or wheelchair access is “enough” to prove that you are disabled. Unfortunately, many Americans share this need for visual confirmation of disability or they will jeer and judge individuals parking in wheelchair spots or otherwise seeking much-needed seats on public transportation and other necessities. But for individuals with cancer, autoimmune diseases like lupus and a host of other conditions, proof of disability may not always be so obvious. Nor does it ultimately need to be to be treated with respect and compassion.

Source: CNN, “Kanye West and proving your disabilities,” David M. Perry, Sep. 16, 2014

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