In the busy environment in which we live today, we walk with a sense of direction, always thinking about the next thing that we need to accomplish. In our rush to get the next task done, we often get mad at those walking slower, or blocking the street, sidewalks, stairs or elevators. Maybe it takes a second glance to realize that we need to be patient, since the person “blocking the way” might be a senior citizen, a pregnant woman, or someone with a visible disability. Then, we are likely to keep our annoyance to ourselves and not only accept that this person needs our understanding, but we might also offer a seat, or get out of the way, since we can and the other person may not be able to. The real issue arises when the disability is not visible and we decide to pass judgment… and that is what I am talking about today.

According to the website Disabled World, “invisible disabilities” is “an umbrella term that captures a whole spectrum of hidden disabilities or challenges that are primarily neurological in nature.” These disabilities range from sleeping disorders and chronic pain to mental conditions. Although, by definition, they show few obvious signs, these conditions may profoundly affect a person’s strength, coordination, concentration or the way he or she feels from day to day in any number of ways most of us take for granted.

People with invisible disabilities are subject to stigma, not because of their condition, but because the signs and symptoms of such conditions are either not seen at all or are not widely understood by the public, including many health care workers.

The issue of invisible disabilities is more complex than the paragraphs possible in this blog post, but I believe it is important to start the conversation. Our attitude toward those with invisible disabilities can make a difference: positive or negative.  Behavioral scientists have written about the impact that stigma has in the life and health of a person, and we should not ignore this impact, and the role we all play in it, as we rush to get from point A to point B. Before we call someone lazy or crazy, we may want to stop and consider that there may be something in the health of this individual that prevents her or him from behaving and responding the way we would like.
Invisible Disability
Written By: Daniel Leyva
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The Institute for Latinx Health Equity is a growing collaborative of public health researchers, behavioral scientists, community leaders, capacity building specialists and social justice advocates. We strive to disseminate information about issues pertinent to health disparities and inequity. Follow us, join us, comment and add your voice to ours.

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