By Meghan Hussey
Today we celebrate International Day of Persons with Disabilities. One of the themes for this year is “Including persons with invisible disabilities in society and development”.
At Mosaic, we work primarily with persons with intellectual/developmental disabilities. For some of these individuals it is not obvious just by looking at them that they have a disability. The worldwide disability symbol, a figure in a wheelchair, does not look like it should apply to them.
Some people would consider having an invisible disability a sort of “blessing”. Some envy the fact that these individuals can more easily “pass” as being non-disabled. This is especially the case in many of the countries we work in, where disability is met with overwhelming stigma.
Having an invisible disability can also be riddled with incredible challenges. I experienced these within my own family. My sister has autism and there were many instances when we were young and she was having a meltdown in a public place from sensory overload or inability to communicate when ignorant strangers, not realizing she had a disability, would stare or make insensitive comments. They’d criticize and say what a “spoiled child” she was, and we would just want to scream, “She’s not spoiled, she’s autistic and she’s doing the best she can!”
People with other types of disabilities experience frustrations similar to this. Imagine how it feels when someone yells at you thinking you’re just being lazy for sitting down on the job when you’re actually having a silent staring seizure because of epilepsy. Or having to correct people’s perception of you as aloof when really you haven’t responded to them because you are Deaf and haven’t heard what they said. Or being accused of “faking it” when you have chronic pain. Or wondering whether or not you should disclose your disability because such a revelation would mean your expulsion from school, either because of biases against persons with disabilities, whether in people’s hearts or written into actual policy.
These and many other struggles are but a few of the examples of some of the individuals we serve internationally through our partners.
One is Living, currently in our young adult program in Tanzania. He is an extremely handsome young man, and you would not realize just by looking at him that he has a mild intellectual and speech disabilities. Living attended a public primary school until age 10. However, he could not write, speak, or do mathematics and he struggled with isolation and exclusion. Now as a young adult having found supports Living is flourishing. At our partner Building a Caring Community, he found teachers who believe in him, his capacity to learn, and his future. His Center in Charge, Doroth, found teaching strategies that worked for him and now he has mastered functional math, reading, and writing. Deo, the young adult coordinator, is helping him build his leadership skills and confidence.
Adalena (photo above) is a young woman who has just entered the Wings Romania pilot young adult transition program with our partner, Motivation Romania. She has intellectual disabilities and lived in an institution until recently. She graduated from the local special education school. Though the staff are very optimistic about her potential and opportunities to be employed, she still needs support to help her build her self-awareness and independent living skills after growing up in segregated settings her entire life.
These individuals are but two of the millions worldwide with invisible disabilities who are in need acceptance, support and inclusion. Through programs and services they have futures that are now full of possibilities. It is absolutely essential that we increase the visibility of persons with “invisible” disabilities in the struggle for a more inclusive world. Everyone deserves to have their needs understood and have the accommodations they need in their communities. We must change attitudes towards people with disabilities, including those with invisible disabilities.