invisible disabilities

How To Support People With Invisible Disabilities

What are Invisible Disabilities?

Invisible Disability also known as hidden disability or non-visible disability (NVD), is an umbrella term that represents a wide spectrum of challenges that are primarily neurological in nature. Invisible disabilities or hidden disabilities, are defined as impairments that are not immediately apparent but substantially limit an individual’s ability to perform daily activities for normal living. 

For instance, people with chronic joint problems may not use mobility aids on some days, or at all. People with auditory or visual disabilities may use aids that are discrete and hence, not obvious to the onlooker. Individuals with cognitive disabilities may not show any obvious tell-tale signs and may appear to be perfectly healthy. Other forms of invisible disabilities may include people suffering with illnesses, injuries, sleep disorders, mental struggles, birth conditions, chronic fatigue, psychiatric disabilities, etc.

Watch this video to hear a first-hand account on what it is like to live with NVD.

How to support people with invisible disabilities?

Millions of people live with conditions they rarely talk about, but greater awareness can help create a culture that is inclusive. Given its fundamental nature of not being apparent, it is highly plausible to undermine and overlook these conditions. To foster an open and supportive society, we have come up with the following tips. 

1. Initiate open conversations

Potential stigmas and judgment can prevent your loved ones with NVD from being open about their situation. They are also likely to downplay their conditions to fit in. Making it a point to initiate open conversations wherein you can provide them with a confidential and safe environment to talk about the challenges they might be facing or ask for support is crucial. Past experiences of being underserved and marginalized may reassure individuals to not reveal their ailments. It is important to respect their privacy. 

2. Educate yourself 

Educating yourself and learning about common hidden disabilities can help to create a more aware, understanding  and supportive world for everyone. Without the knowledge of common disabilities, symptoms and how they might manifest themselves, it is easy to form unfair judgments or perceptions of those suffering. Apart from affecting the individuals concerned, this can forge a barrier to social inclusion. The more you broaden your knowledge, the more capable you will be to truly understand and show empathy.  

3. Believe and reassure

Invisible disabilities are not only debilitating but oftentimes can also leave the individuals with a taxing tax of proving their conditions. The first step towards inclusion is to believe. Because of the lack of conspicuously visible indications, we are highly likely to dismiss the repercussions and seriousness of those who are battling these disabilities every single day. Acknowledge that their pain is real. Believing and reassuring loved ones with hidden disabilities can add value to their lives and encourage them to be honest and open.   

4. Provide support

Providing support can be very valuable for people with hidden illnesses to fight any anxiety or worries that they may have. Ask thoughtful questions about symptoms, treatments and problems that they might be facing. It is natural for people suffering to sometimes transpire negative emotions like frustration, being distant, angry, sad, emotionally needy, etc. Be patient and loving. Find a good balance between providing them with support and giving them their space. Being around and accessible is the best form of support you can provide. 

5. Accept responsibility

It is possible to be reactive and come off as insensitive sometimes. In such situations, it is imperative to accept responsibility, apologise and commit to learn from it. 

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