People with disabilities often hesitate to discuss the way their conditions impact their lives. They may be reticent to discuss their problems with their closest friends and relatives out of fear of burdening them. Often, they also stay quiet at work out of fear of discrimination and repercussion.
We need to break the silence surrounding the struggles of those with disabilities. If businesses want to become truly inclusive, they need to implement policies that benefit all employees, including those with invisible challenges. Meaningful political change can only occur when those muted have their voices heard and their needs respected.1. Lack of Financial Security
Consider this — one in 10 American women experience endometriosis at some point during her childbearing years. However, it can take years to get a diagnosis, likely because doctors take women's pain less seriously than men's.
If it takes so long to get a determination on a common disorder, how many visits does it take to discover a rare condition, like poly-orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS)? During this time, a woman must call in sick and lose income — possibly her job — over absenteeism.
Even common disabilities lead to difficulty maintaining employment. If you suffer hearing impairment, for example, you may struggle to understand spoken directions at the office. Difficulty hearing can lead to mistakes that can result in potential termination if a lack of understanding exists.
When you struggle to keep a job, you’ll likely burn through emergency funds like water. You end up maxing out credit cards and taking early withdrawals from retirement funds. Consider that roughly 28% of adults in the U.S. have no emergency funds. Imagine the extent to which disabled individuals struggle when it comes to employment.
2. No Universal Health Care
The U.S. stands alone among developed nations in not guaranteeing health insurance coverage as a right — and this hurts the disabled the most. You need a job to gain coverage. If you can't find or handle full-time employment, you're out of luck. Plus, fewer and fewer employers offer quality benefits.
Consider the fact that 81% of people with intellectual disabilities work in sheltered environments. These arrangements generally pay a fraction of the minimum wage. When they graduate from these programs, attendees often take other low-wage jobs with little to no health insurance benefits.
If they earn little enough to qualify for Medicaid, they can access the treatments needed to retain the ability to work. If they get a raise, however, they may lose coverage and find affording needed medications and doctor visits impossible. See the inherent trickery?
3. A New Gig Economy
Further compounding the health insurance issue is the rise of the gig economy. By their nature, independent contractors receive no benefits, including insurance or unemployment compensation. Considering that four out of five Americans live paycheck to paycheck, an unexpected loss of income due to illness or absenteeism can quickly leave disabled individuals out on the street.
4. A Place of Isolation
Living with a disability usually means making many necessary adaptations. However, doing so often takes much of the energy the affected individual possesses. If they're working, making it to Friday happy hour could seem like rolling a boulder up Mt. Everest.
Finding a wheelchair-accessible bus to attend a doctor's appointment can take monumental effort. People with disabilities might decline social invitations, even if they want to attend. Over time, friends may then stop calling, which creates loneliness and isolation among disabled individuals.
5. A Constant Struggle
Colleges built before the early 90s don't need to include wheelchair ramps until they undergo major renovations. Someone who uses mobility aids can sign up for classes at an Ivy-League school. However, they may arrive to discover they can't even get inside the building.
Many customer support lines only offer help via telephone. While telecommunication devices for the deaf (TDD) exist, they don't aid those who struggle to speak. Unless text support is available, they have to find someone else to make the call.
6. Daily Societal Bias
Those with disabilities hear ridiculous things all the time. For example, that they “get to lie in bed all day.” People inundate them with yoga positions, herbs and supplements they can take to feel better magically.
The truth is, many conditions aren't curable with diet and exercise. You can't reverse a traumatic brain injury with the power of positive thinking. If you love a member of the community, think twice about what you say. Your words may be innocent, but to someone with a disability, they can cut like the proverbial knife.
7. A Full-Time Job
How often do you visit the doctor? If you're like most non-disabled people, probably once a year or when you feel sick.
When you're disabled, visiting your physician and maintaining a healthy regimen is a full-time job. Those who work often use paid time off running from one specialist to the next. The first goal is to secure a diagnosis, then a cure.
Those who can no longer perform daily work functions have to arrange for transportation to and from maintenance visits. It's exhausting. These people need a vacation more than anybody, but often lack the time off or stable financial situations to take one.
Break the Silence Surrounding Disability
People with disabilities remain silent for many reasons. They may fear repercussions at work. Others don't want to “burden” others with their worries.
I can say from experience that living with an invisible condition is debilitating beyond what words can say. You can lose friendships, career opportunities and nights upon nights of sleep. Sometimes you’ll look around at your friends who live pain-free lives and wonder what you did wrong to deserve missing out on your own life, as you watch it pass by in the rearview mirror on your way to yet another doctor’s appointment.
Everyone has their struggles, and this isn’t meant as a “why me?” essay. Because, really, why anyone? Life is simply unfair, and I’ve come to accept that. Rather, I want those who are healthy to make an effort to understand and sympathize with the disabled community better. If you're healthy, give someone you know who struggles with a disability a hug. Then, speak out and serve as a voice for those in need.