Invisible Disability and Etiquette

Invisible Disability

Author: Thomas C. Weiss
Published: 2012/08/09 - Updated: 2019/11/08
Contents: Summary - Introduction - Main - Related

Synopsis: Information regarding etiquette and manners when referring to or relating to persons with invisible disabilities. Every person is a unique individual, whether they have a form of chronic health condition, disability or not. It is not possible to make generic statements concerning the enablement of all people. As Dr. Seuss stated, "Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind."


The classic statement from many people who do not experience a form of disability in relation to those who experience forms of invisible disabilities is, 'You do not look disabled!' Seemingly endless years of exposure to media presentations and social acceptance of able-bodied persons as being the accepted, 'normal,' finds many persons who do not experience disabilities thinking people with visible disabilities have more limitations than they truly do. At the same time, they often believe people with invisible disabilities experience fewer limitations than they actually have.

Main Digest

Many forms of invisible disabilities exist that may not present signs on the outside of a person. These forms of disabilities affect a person's bones, muscles, nerves, cells, or their cognition for example. Some of the invisible disabilities in the world today that people experience include ones such as brain injury, asthma, arthritis, allergy, chronic fatigue syndrome, epilepsy, diabetes, hearing loss, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, heart disease, lung disease, knee injury, osteoarthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, or multiple chemical sensitivity - a few examples. How do people without disabilities know, and what do they do? They many times assume people with invisible forms of disabilities can work just as hard, walk as far, or sit as long as people without disabilities simply because people with invisible disabilities, 'do not look disabled.'

Every person is a unique individual, whether they have a form of chronic health condition, disability or not. It is not possible to make generic statements concerning the enablement of all people. Where any type of relationship is concerned, it is important to consider accommodations, as well as to ensure that people are welcomed. Until you are aware of whether or not a person has a form of invisible disability, it is important to bear in mind the potential for the experience of disability in others.

What Do Others Think

As Dr. Seuss stated, "Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind." Dr. Seuss may have presented a statement of openness where communication is concerned, but not everyone chooses to pursue it.

Do not refuse to believe what you cannot see by doubting a person's truthfulness.

People do not always choose to identify themselves as a person with disabilities. When you plan an event, make sure that accessibility needs are directed to a real person; it provides the opportunity for people with invisible disabilities to reach out and not feel as if they are imposing.

If you are aware that a person has a form of invisible disability, the best tactic may be to simply speak with the person and ask them what they are able to do and what they cannot do. In a group of people, always assume there is someone who experiences a form of invisible disability. If a person says they are unable to do something, do not attempt to somehow coax or convince them to try anyway. Instead, ask the person what you can do to make their participation possible and invite them to participate to the degree they are able to.

Remember that a hearing impairment is a form of invisible disability.

Assume there is a person in any group of people who experiences a form of hearing loss. When you speak to an audience, face your audience. Never judge another person's limitations or pain. Instead, accept as truth the things a person with invisible disabilities tells you.

Basic Disability Etiquette When Greeting People with Disabilities

Etiquette is defined as a code of behavior that delineates expectations for social behavior according to contemporary conventional norms within a society, social class, or group.

Should you meet a person who uses a wheelchair remember that it is inappropriate to lean on, push, or hold onto their wheelchair unless you are asked to do so. The person's wheelchair is a part of their personal space. You should offer to tell them where accessible seating areas or restrooms are. If you are giving directions to a person who uses a wheelchair, take into consideration the physical obstacles they may encounter such as doorways, curbs, stairs, or other things in their way, as well as the distance they must go. Remember that a person who was standing in front of you a moment ago may have osteoarthritis, for example, and use a wheelchair to travel longer distances.

You may encounter a person who experiences a form of disability that affects their speech.

If you do, be patient and pay attention while waiting for the person to complete a thought or word; do not finish it for them. If you do not understand what the person has said, ask them to repeat it. Tell them what you did hear and find out if it is close to what they are saying. The person may use a technique or device to augment or enhance his or her speech; be prepared and do not be afraid to communicate with someone who uses a computer, pen and paper, or an alphabet board to communicate.

When you greet a person who experiences a form of disability, do not offer them assistance unless they want it. A number of people with disabilities want to remain as independent as possible. If the person wants assistance, ask them how you can specifically help them. A smile is always appropriate, yet a handshake is not a standard form of greeting for everyone you meet. Speak directly to the person with a disability and not only to those who are around them. Remember that everyone makes mistakes and relax - keep your sense of humor and a willingness to communicate.

Many people experience a form of vision disability or are blind.

When you encounter a person with a vision disability, do not leave them without excusing yourself first. If you are asked to guide the person never pull or push them along. Instead, allow them to take your arm and walk slightly ahead of you. Be specific in your descriptions of objects that are located around them. If the person has a guide dog, do not distract the dog; it is always working and is not a pet.

If a person you encounter has a form of disability that affects their intelligence, learning, or brain function, keep communication simple. Rephrase questions or comments if you need to, use different words a second or third time to clarify the communication between you, and remain focused on what the person is saying and the way they respond to you. Let the person take their time to show or tell you what they want.

People you encounter who are deaf or who use hearing aids should be allowed to take the lead in establishing the means of communication, such as sign language, lip-reading, or note writing. Talk directly to the person, even if the person has a sign language interpreter with them. If the person reads lips, face them directly and speak clearly at a moderate speed.

Author Credentials:

Thomas C. Weiss is a researcher and editor for Disabled World. Thomas attended college and university courses earning a Masters, Bachelors and two Associate degrees, as well as pursing Disability Studies. As a Nursing Assistant Thomas has assisted people from a variety of racial, religious, gender, class, and age groups by providing care for people with all forms of disabilities from Multiple Sclerosis to Parkinson's; para and quadriplegia to Spina Bifida. Explore Thomas' complete biography for comprehensive insights into his background, expertise, and accomplishments.

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Cite This Page (APA): Weiss, T. C. (2012, August 9 - Last revised: 2019, November 8). Invisible Disability and Etiquette. Disabled World. Retrieved July 24, 2024 from

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