The number one question people ask of our organization, the Invisible Disabilities Association is “What is an invisible disability?” The term invisible disabilities refers to the invisible symptoms such as debilitating pain, fatigue, dizziness, cognitive dysfunctions, brain injuries, learning differences and mental health disorders, as well as hearing and vision impairments. These are not always obvious to the onlooker, but are very real to the person living with them as they may impact daily activities and range from mild challenges to severe limitations and vary from person to person.
Someone who has a visible impairment or uses an assistive device such as a wheelchair, walker or cane can also have invisible disabilities. A wheelchair or hearing aids do not necessarily limit a person’s ability to participate in life’s activities. What if they have chronic pain or PTSD or brain fog or other invisible symptoms? These invisible symptoms can create a great strain on their daily ability and functionality.
Unfortunately, people often judge others by what they see and often conclude a person can or cannot do something by the way they look. This can be equally frustrating for those who may appear unable, but are perfectly capable, as well as those who appear able, but are not.
International disability expert Joni Eareckson Tada explained it well when she told someone living with debilitating fatigue, “People have such high expectations of folks like you [with invisible disabilities], like, ‘come on, get your act together.’ but they have such low expectations of folks like me in wheelchairs, as though it’s expected that we can’t do much.”
Illness affects us all. Even those with fortune and fame have to deal with the impact of pain and fatigue and brain fog. Money isn’t the answer to being able to live daily with the sometime devastating impact of disability or illness, being a friend and caring and believing makes the difference.
I think about celebrities in all of their glory and, truly, they are just like the rest of us when it comes to managing and surviving the impact of their illnesses and pain. The following is just a small list of them:
- Michael J Fox – Parkinson’s
- Kevin Sorbo – Stroke
- Toni Braxton – Lupus
- Lil’ Wayne – Epilepsy
- Clay Walker – Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
- Derek Amato – Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
- Catherine Zeta-Jones – Bipolar Disorder
- Bob Woodruff – Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
- Yolanda Foster – Lyme Disease
- Mandy Harvey – Deafness
- Marcia Cross – Migraine Headaches
- Matt Iseman – Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Avril Lavigne – Lyme Disease
In order to bring attention to the vastness of the impact of invisible disabilities, our organization will host an annual awards gala in Denver on October 23, 2015. This year’s theme is “Hearing is Believing.” Because “seeing is not necessarily believing,” especially if the illness and pain are invisible. Listening and validating and caring make a huge difference and are accomplished by truly hearing what a person lives with daily.
In addition to the Gala, we are hosting our inaugural Brain IDEAS Symposium on October 23. The theme is “It’s All in Your Head.” Its cutting-edge science will be dynamically revealed and accessible to everyone. We will be looking at different brain disorders, brain health and brain therapy including mental illness, autism, Alzheimer’s, nutrition, mental training,humor, stroke, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI).
Of course, many are unable to travel and participate in our events in Denver and therefore we have created the Invisible Disabilities Week!
Join in the awareness and fun. The bottom line is that everyone with a disability is different, with varying challenges and needs, as well as abilities and attributes. Thus, we all should learn to listen with our ears, instead of judging with our eyes. Let’s envision a world where people living with illness, pain and disability will be Invisible No More!
2015 Invisible Disabilities Week October 18 through 24. Invisible Disabilities Week is seven days of online events everyone can participate in no matter where you live around the country or the globe. You will have the opportunity to share your story and proudly wear blue for Invisible Disabilities. Below are the following events each day. Check out InvisibleDisabilitiesWeek.org for the latest details. We will be using #InvisibleDisabilitiesWeek on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
- Oct. 18 – Kick-off Sunday
- Oct. 19 – My Story Monday
- Oct. 20 – Tell a Friend Tuesday
- Oct. 21 – Wristband and Wear Blue Wednesday
- Oct. 22 – Thankful Thursday
- Oct. 23 – Five for Friday
- Oct. 24 – IDA Cares Saturday