What Disability Looks Like

Several months ago a friend referred to me as being “sometimes-disabled” and I’ve been “spinning” about it ever since. I think that what he meant was that some days I suppose I look “more disabled” than others, but I guarantee you, I am constantly disabled. In fact, one of the biggest barriers I face is the fact that I don’t always “look disabled”.

My days do range in severity in terms of mobility and pain and on a “great day” I might be out without any assistive devices and not “appear obviously disabled”. On a “good day” I will usually have an assistive device, ranging from one or even two canes, my walker, or my wheelchair, depending upon where I am, what I am doing and which is most feasible. A friend with Cerebral Palsy is known to say, “The walker’s for me, the cane is for you.” By this she means that she brings her cane as it is an easier device to manage, though the walker is the most accommodating option for her.

Unfortunately, as I am not swift moving, it is on “good days” that I am most jostled by others around me in public. People just aren’t aware that you are unable to move with the ebb and flow of the crowd. On crowded subways, for example, people don’t often bump into each other as they are able to move with the crowd and adjust their paths subtly and subconsciously. As a result, I usually carry a cane on these days as a visual clue to others.

Great days and good days, I am able to be “out in the world”. Bad days I am at home, and again, this may range from working from the home office to being unable to get out of bed. There is a wide range in my days. I often joke that at least it keeps from getting monotonous, I mean the same thing every day might get tedious.

Though upon closer observation there are clues. One will note that I move purposefully, and slowly. Every movement is considered and I have to be constantly aware of my surroundings. I suffer from tremors as well, so often appear to “shake” which occasionally attracts the odd look. I have been informed that when I am in pain, I ball my fists with my thumb tucked beneath my forefingers. But you would have to know me very well, or read my blog, to know this about me and recognize it as a sign of pain. During meals I have to rest my elbows on the table to support myself and when out at restaurants, worry this is noted as poor etiquette. Similarly, when out with my mother I worry that people will think me rude for sitting in a chair and not offering it to my mother.

There are thousands of invisible disabilities, and millions of Canadians with those disabilities. In fact, with one in seven Canadians having a disability, and the majority of those disabilities being non-visible, it is impossible to know who has a disability and who does not.

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