You Don’t “Look” Disabled – What is That?!

If you have an invisible disability or other invisible health condition, chances are that you have been confronted about using accessible facilities.

You don’t ‘look’ disabled – it’s a phrase those living with invisible disability often hear. And shouldn’t. In this article we explore what it’s like to live with invisible disabilities in Australia, such as mental health conditions and chronic illnesses. And why people who have these conditions (also called non-visible disabilities, or NVDs) require and are very much entitled to accessible facilities.

You don’t ‘look’ disabled – invisible disabilities explained

You don’t look disabled…

Invisible disabilities are a wide range of conditions or impairments that can affect a person’s physical health, mental health and/or emotional functioning, but are not easily seen or observed. These disabilities include conditions such as chronic pain, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, chronic migraines, autoimmune disorders, learning disabilities, depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions.

Here’s a list of what’s classified as an invisible disability.

While they may not be obvious to others because people who have them don’t necessarily require an assistive device, invisible disabilities are very real. They can significantly impact (and sometimes limit) the way someone goes about their daily activities.

Learn more about this from the video below:

While the effects of NVDs vary from person to person, most people experience some physical symptoms that affect their mobility. This is why they need – and are entitled – to use accessible facilities in Australia (more on this later).

While it’s important to recognise the physical manifestations of these conditions, it’s equally important to recognise the invisible side of these disabilities. Despite the fact that physical symptoms may not be present, the emotional, mental, and social impact of these conditions can be immense.

In Australia, five million people live with invisible disabilities.

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare

Feelings of isolation and helplessness

You don’t look disabled…

Uninformed society can react negatively towards people with NVDs when their mental health condition is not visible. People may not understand or believe that someone can be struggling with a disability if it’s not physically visible.

This can lead to feelings of isolation, frustration, and helplessness for those with NVDs. Not being understood can be damaging in a number of ways.

You dont look disabled - People may not understand or believe that someone can be struggling with a disability if it is not physically visible. This can lead to feelings of isolation for those living with invisible disabilities in Australia.

In addition, many people with NVDs are not eligible for certain forms of assistance or support. This can be especially true for those with learning disabilities, mental health disorders, and other conditions that aren’t easily observed or are deemed not debilitating enough on a daily basis to be eligible for funding support.

Without the proper support, these individuals may be unable to reach their full potential and/or may face additional barriers in their daily lives.

We should all try to recognise the challenges faced by those with invisible disabilities in Australia and offer support, compassion and understanding. By doing so, we can help create a more inclusive and understanding society.

Facing external and internalised stigma

You don’t look disabled…

Navigating the world with an invisible disability can be a difficult experience. For those with a physical disability, it can be easier to explain the need for accommodations or assistance. But for people with an invisible disability—such as a mental health condition, chronic illness, or learning disability—stigma and misunderstanding can make life even more challenging.

When it comes to NVDs, judgment and assumptions can be quick.

People with invisible disabilities in Australia may face judgment from family, friends, and even strangers. People often wrongly perceive individuals with disabilities as being lazy or unmotivated due to their condition. Instead, in reality, they’re facing challenges others can’t fully understand.

This stigma can make it difficult for people with invisible disabilities in Australia to open up or ask for help.

People may judge and overlook individuals with an invisible disability when providing certain services. If we do not acknowledge and address the requirement for support, we can easily exclude individuals with NVDs from crucial discussions.

People with an invisible disability like a mental health condition need support and understanding just as much as those with visible disabilities. Instead of judgment, there should be empathy. We should strive to create an environment where those with NVDs feel comfortable reaching out for help and support.

Being told you cheat the system because you don’t look disabled

You don’t look disabled…

If you live with an invisible disability, chances are you’ve been confronted about using accessible facilities in Australia. Our Invisible Disabilities Week Survey in 2021 found 74% of respondents with a disability parking permit had been verbally harassed or insulted for not ‘looking disabled’ when using a parking bay.

Regrettably, individuals who have invisible disabilities frequently face questioning when they use facilities designed to be accessible. In some cases, these situations can become aggressive and leave people feeling frustrated and, in some cases, frightened.

Despite having a valid permit and being entitled to using accessible facilities such as bathrooms and accessible seats on public transport, many people unfortunately think those with invisible disabilities are cheating the system based on how they look. Namely, because they don’t use a wheelchair. (Side note: check out this ‘How to Display a Disabled Parking Permit in Each State‘ article for more info on disability parking permits.)

Hence, when it comes to the use of accessible facilities, people with NVDs often don’t feel comfortable using them. They may feel hesitant asking for access when needed. They can even feel like they don’t deserve it.

This can be a result of internalised stigma or feeling like they don’t have the same right to access the same resources as those with visible disabilities.

More education and understanding is needed

This cycle has to stop. We need to better educate ourselves and each other for a more understanding and empathetic society. Surely we all want people living with NVPs to access what they need to without fear of retribution?

On that note, check out these articles if you’re keen on learning more about invisible disabilities:

  1. 3 Misconceptions About Parkinson’s Disease
  2. Dementia and Mobility – What You Need to Know
  3. World Multiple Sclerosis Day: What is it and Why?
  4. World Autoimmune Arthritis Day
  5. Epilepsy Awareness 101

NVDs are just as real as visible disabilities

You don’t look disabled“.

It’s important to remember that invisible disabilities are just as real and valid as visible disabilities. Individuals with NVDs should be granted the same level of consideration to utilise facilities. Encouraging access to these amenities can have a substantial impact on the well-being of individuals with NVDs, ultimately enhancing their overall quality of life.

One way to ensure people with an invisible disability feel more comfortable using accessible facilities is to create a supportive environment. This can include things like making sure access to accessible facilities is easily available, providing clear signage with instructions – ideally, pointing out that people with all kinds of disability may use these facilities… Basically, making sure that the entire process is simplified and inclusive.

Creating an open and understanding dialogue about invisible disabilities is key, so people feel heard, respected and supported.

Living with an invisible disability? Get appropriate insurance

If you do have a pet (as emotional support or just because), protecting their health can take one stressor off your mind. And they’re our best friends, so why not? Check out Blue Badge pet insurance to find out how to cover your furkid well.

Plus, with a disability parking permit you could qualify for a discount on disability car insurance and pet insurance. Time to get a quote?

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