A term that has gained much traction recently is: ‘invisible disability’. Used to describe an illness or condition that is suffered by a person but perhaps not immediately obvious to those around them, I am left wondering though, how accurate is this idea? And if we are viewing these illnesses as invisible, are we doing our fellow humans a disservice by pretending not to see what makes them truly them?
Some people may describe autism as an invisible disability, but for me, it's not. I remain convinced that it is blindingly obvious I am autistic; from my awkward eye contact to my total misuse of sarcasm, my obsession with education, and my inability to process the greengrocer’s apostrophe which has led to numerous incidents of a-criminal damage. Autism is anything but invisible in me.
I would offer that an alteration to the term, perhaps: ‘transparent disability’ is more accurate. Much like the glass of a window, one can’t immediately see that it’s there when looking through it; look closer and one might notice the crack in the corner, the smudge of dirt in the centre – if you care to look hard enough at a transparent disability, you may just see it. I slightly prefer ‘hidden disability’, I think it’s more accurate to describe autism as hidden as there is an active attempt that many autistic people have developed to slip under the radar – masking. By acknowledging it as hidden, one is also forced to acknowledge that there has been an attempt to hide it.
Which leads me on to: how do we make these hidden disabilities less hidden? Well, I haven’t quite decided how I feel about the sunflower lanyard phenomenon, only because the use of a sunflower lanyard seems so unregulated. Anyone can go online and purchase the lanyard, which on one hand eliminates barriers that many disabled people have when buying disability aids. Conversely, it also runs the risk that the meaning behind the lanyard could be lost – with people buying and wearing the lanyard when perhaps they do not have sufficient need to do so. Although who decides what does and doesn’t warrant the wearing of such a lanyard is an issue that I dare not explore. I also think there in an inherent nosiness in most people (myself included), I would be worried that I’d be strolling down the street all dressed up like a well-known painting by Vincent Van Gough, and people all around would be looking thinking: “ooh, I wonder what her disability is?” . That’s just the sort of attention that I seek to avoid.. perhaps I am happy with remaining largely invisible.
I don’t know, I can see how wearing a lanyard may be helpful to some, but it’s not for me. What I will say however, is that the sheer rate at which the sunflower lanyard ‘movement’ caught on is evidence to show that there’s a growing number of people who do not necessarily wish for their disabilities to stay ‘invisible’. And why shouldn’t they? When a medical condition affects a person so much that it becomes an intrinsic part of who they are, why should they be content with society claiming that they can’t see it?