As an Independent Living Specialist, I’m appalled at the number of persons with disabilities who have family members and friends who tell them to, “Just get up and get to work!” The individuals I’m referring to are often those who ask for help because they are homeless. The problem lies in disabilities that are “hidden;” those that we can’t outwardly discern. For instance, someone with a back injury, chronic fatigue syndrome, heart, lung or liver disease, and so many other conditions, don’t show their disability outwardly. Because of it, these individuals are judged as malingers or charlatans and don’t receive the compassion or assistance they so desperately need.
Estimates of “hidden” disabilities range from 60% to 80% of all disabilities. If you’re shocked by this number, consider how many people you know who have a hidden disability. People with arthritis, mental illness, cancer, autoimmune disorders, minor strokes, learning disabilities, personality disorders, fibromyalgia, diabetes, PTSD, chemical sensitivities, etc., etc., etc.
Isn’t it time we stopped judging people when we don’t know the kind of trial they’re facing or the pain they live with on a daily basis? Yes, there are people out there who will take advantage of the system and will “fake” a disability. But I’ve never seen a person who has been homeless on a long-term basis who is faking it. Most are desperate to get by and just survive.
Let’s try to remember that just because we aren’t seeing tangible evidence of a disability doesn’t mean it’s not real. Let’s try a little compassion and emotional support and see if we can’t become part of the solution rather than adding to the problem.