Private and Public Policy Reviews for the Disabled

Coping with Hidden Disabilities

By Stephen Rex Goode, BSW

A lot of progress has been made for people with disabilities who use various tools and instruments to live their lives more included. I’m aware that there is plenty yet to be done. Yet, someone like me who doesn’t use any highly visible supports, can often be frustrated at the options available for being accommodated.

I am diabetic and have arthritis in my back from an old injury and the surgery that helped let me have a few decades of mobility. The diabetes causes neuropathy in my feet, making it difficult to stand in one place very long. The arthritis in my back can be very painful and make it difficult to walk.

Although most of the time, I can get by without any external devices for support, I am sometimes tempted to get a cane or something that is a sign that I’m a disabled person. The external evidence that one needs to be acccommodated in some way shows at least some people that here is a person who may need some form of assistance.

For example, I was riding the light rail in my city. There are signs and announcements saying that certain marked seats must be surrendered to the elderly or those with disabilities. For me, standing up on a bus or light rail is murder. I see people get up and surrender their seats all the time to people using some kind of walking aid like a cane or a walker. I have to ask and I was give a pretty rude response by a young woman.

The same goes for standing in lines to buy tickets, groceries, or be waited on by some bureaucrat behind a window. If I were in a wheelchair or had a cane, I wouldn’t need to ask for help. And consider that to ask for help, I have to step out of line. If I don’t get the the help I need, I’ve lost my place.

As a mentor of developmentally disabled adults, I believe in the concept of the least necessary intervention to help disabled people. In other words, I think that every person ought to be able to stretch to find his or her potential without being hindered by preconceived notions of what the limits are. For me, I could use a cane, but it wouldn’t be out of necessity. The least necessary intervention for me is to make it possible for me to walk as long as I can and sit when I need to.  As it is, I have to choose between using more of an intervention than I really need or just suffering the pain. I have to either get in a scooter or just suffer risk aggravating my back and feet.

Many people like me choose pain over the hassle of seeking accommodation and help when our need for it is not evidenced in the devices we have about us. The root cause of this is a society that perhaps overvalues pushing the limits. I’m all for any person seeing if the limits he’s been given are the real limits, but when someone needs and wants help, he should get it without having to put on a show.

I know that I will mostly likely one day need a personal mobility device daily. A can or other kind of support is probably immenent. I should only have to take that step when I need it and not before.

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