Loosely defined, an invisible disability is one that is not noticeable. Everyone is familiar with the concept of visible disabilities: guide dogs, wheelchairs, canes, etc. Examples of invisible disabilities include: Hearing aids, brain injuries, chronic pain, mental illness, gastro-intestinal disorders, and others alike.
Disabilities such as hearing loss or deafness are considered invisible: because looking at someone that has one, face to face does not immediately disclose it. After all, people with invisible disabilities don’t “physically appear sick.” It’s not saying that one kind of disability receives more grief than the other, because they all do, just in different forms. People with health issues are sometimes incorrectly perceived to be “childlike” and “in need of help/advice.”
Maintaining this kind of behaviour continuously enforces emotional barriers between whoever is receiving the blunt of the message. People with visible disabilities are more than likely to become victims of “inspiration porn,” and people with invisible disabilities are more likely to become excluded and discriminated against, should they disclose it.
In a nutshell, “inspiration porn” is when a disabled person is viewed as inspirational, brave, or special for achieving ordinary, everyday tasks. On the internet, it takes the form of memes or absurd slogans such as “the only disability in life is a bad attitude,” and even “if they can do it, so can you!”
“Inspiration porn” also reinforces the myth that disabled people are eternal children. Even when they don’t realize it, people without disabilities often speak to people who do similarly to how they talk to children; with a sickeningly sweet, syrupy tone and attitude. To combat this, the best thing that one can do for anyone is presume competence.
Personally, I’ve lost count of the number of times people have asked my parents or friends questions that should have been directed at me. “What is her name?” “What would she like to eat and drink?” “Where would she like to sit?” This one hurts me the most, because I interpret it as a sign that i am not worthy of their respect. How would you feel if someone talked about you while you were sitting right in front of them? It hurts. It hurts, it annoys, and it angers.
Realistically, ableism is one of the few remaining socially accepted prejudices. From ableist slurs, to the dark side of the anti-vaccination movement (“I don’t want to vaccinate my kid because then he’ll get autism.”) It’s possible, but it will take a lot of work in order to expose and demolish ableist behaviours and stereotypes.
The main thing to remember is to be respectful and kind, just as you would to anyone else. If you screw up, well, it happens to everyone. Just apologize, ask what you can do to make it right, and make a conscious effort not to make that mistake again in the future.
It’s simple. If we’re adults, talk to us like we’re adults. If we’re children, talk to us like we’re children.