Recently, I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), people with intellectual disabilities are protected. This means that I, along with 6.1 million people in the US fall under the ADA’s protections. While this disability is not visible, it is still protected, and there are a number of stigmas associated with it.
The stigma around invisible disabilities
Twenty-five percent of the American population has a disability. And yet it is not all that common a topic of discussion. Since there is not much representation of people with disabilities (visible or invisible), there are still stereotypes that exist. People without known disabilities may be seen as “needy,” or overlooked for sports or promotions, for example. These stereotypes are inaccurate, but they come from a lack of knowledge.
When we do discuss disability, instead of addressing disability head-on, we defer to euphemisms.
Euphemism – a neutral, vague, mild, or indirect substitute to replace a direct, harsh, unpleasant or insulting term or taboo.
In our training on Disability Etiquette, I like using this quote from my favorite series, Harry Potter. “Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.” Not discussing your disability can be harmful in several ways:
- Keeping your struggles to yourself may be forcing you to carry an unnecessary burden.
- Maybe someone else is going through something similar and talking about it would be a release for them as well.
- It may prevent personal growth. What’s more, you might be helping others grow in their understanding of disability.
By tiptoeing around disability, we give it more “scary” power than necessary. Disability should be discussed head on. In this way, we can start to tackle the stigmas around it and have frank discussions instead.
Asking for help
In the workplace, specifically, asking for help is synonymous with “disclosing a disability.” This is the process where you seek an accommodation so you can perform the essential functions of your job. In this case, the ADA protects you and requires employers to find an accommodation that works for both parties.
Even outside of work, though, masking one’s symptoms can be both stressful and tiring. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves trying to avoid discrimination and negative reactions of others. By discussing disability, you give yourself grace. And you can give those around you grace as well. I will be the first to admit – discussing my disability makes it less of a cloud over my head!
Whether you are in the workplace or with friends, disclosing a disability can be overwhelming. I can admit that I struggle asking for help. For various reasons, I avoid acknowledging I need assistance but that is almost always to my detriment. While it can be scary to open up about your disability, it is important if it is affecting your daily interactions. Additionally, because not all disabilities are visible, people may struggle identifying exactly what kind of help they need.
It is up to you
Disclosing your disability is a very personal decision. There are many factors to consider why or why not you should disclose. Those factors include who to tell, how to go about it, and when you should do it (if ever). Sometimes for those with invisible disabilities, it feels like we are hiding something. Of course, there is no obligation to disclose, but it might make your life easier to be proactive instead of reactive. For jobs, you would likely be better off discussing accommodations before there is a problem. The same can be said for your everyday life, too. Addressing disability head on can avoid tricky conversations in the future while making your life easier in the “now.”
Disability discussions have come a long way since the ADA was passed. But if we are to reduce the stigma of disability, it is often up to us to have those challenging conversations. There is no need to dive into the specifics – what you share is up to you! As a matter of fact, you might not have to discuss your disability at all. Bringing up disability, though, allows us to de-mystify the “taboo,” and have an honest conversation.