Can We Stop Pitting Visible Against Invisible Disabilities?


Today I read another post about how people with visible disabilities have it so much easier than over those with invisible disabilities. I have, in my time, also read posts about how people with invisible disabilities are have an easier time than those with visible disabilities.

Who is this helping? No one.

It’s one thing to raise awareness of the different challenges that arise from the wide array of impairments disabled people have. It’s another to wallow in “who, in this group of people who are all oppressed by a disablist society, has it worst” .

Passing as non-disabled (having an invisible disability) means you probably don’t get the constant stares in the street stemming from your impairment, the “what’s wrong with you?” questions from people you’ve never met when you are just trying to eat a sandwich in a park, the constant pressure to become a paralympian, random people telling you that you are cursed/are being punished for past life transgressions whilst you are window shopping (and that they can fix it if you give the £250), you probably have never been in a situation where two small steps have meant you can’t physically enter a building or experienced the bus-buggy-war first hand and you probably haven’t had people assume you can’t communicate for yourself on a regular basis. But it also means you have to deal with other problems arising from a lack of visibility. Such as constantly running up against people who don’t/won’t believe your impairment is disabling (because if it was you’d have a wheelchair), being told off for using accessible toilets or parking spaces, having your own bus-war when it comes to using the priority seats and a whole lot more that comes from living in a world where people think disabled people look like “x” and anyone else is either non-disabled or non-disabled and lazy/on the scrounge/attention seeking.

Two protesters with invisible disabilities raising awareness about dyslexia and learning disabilities

Of course that massively over simplifies things, we all know the visibility or invisibility of impairments can fluctuate depending on a number of things. A mental health condition may be very visible on day and invisible the next. A wheelchair user who can walk 20m may appear non-disabled when inside their own home. Visibly disabled people still have to “defend” not having “overcome” their disability and still have to put up with being treated as scroungers (because a super-crip on TV got a job). Invisibly disabled people still face physical access barriers, such as a lack of available seating or safe spaces. No two impairments effect two people in the same way, one person with ME might struggle to ever leave bed, another might only notice it after  6 straight hours of work. A step I find disabling another wheelchair user might not.

A older man using a wheelchair and his feet to navigate two steps when there is no ramp

That said, all of these issues do have one thing in common. They stem from the same place, institutional Disablism. Our society is set up to deal with non-disabled people and struggles (or just out right fails) to cope with disabled people. It’s why our media only uses dodgy stereotypes of disability (if it even mentions disability at all) and why our education system doesn’t teach about disability in a meaningful way. Which is why people don’t know how to deal with disabled people without pigeon holing them into unhelpful & dehumanising stereotypes (It’s a amputee they must be a super-crip or a object of pity! It’s someone who doesn’t appear “disabled” they must be scrounger faking it or terminally ill!). It’s also why people don’t know about our politics or about most of the challenges we face whilst living in a largely physically & psychologically inaccessible world.

So instead of spending our time arguing about “who has it worst of all” it’s high time we all remembered that the real enemy we all face is Disablism and it’s going to take all of us working together to combat it effectively.

20m Rule Vigil 9/7/14

A group of disabled people with visible and invisible disabilities & allies taking part in a protest against the PIP 20m Rule.

    • Miss N Franchised
    • July 11th, 2014

    I’m in that last photo!!


    • Sally
    • August 7th, 2014

    The purpose of handicap parking is to provide access to goods and services to those who otherwise could not access them. They are not meant to be used for convenience, ease, or time saving.

    Simply having any disability, visible or not, does not automatically qualify one for a handicap permit. Your ability to walk must be severely limited. So much so that you cannot walk 200 feet. 200 feet is not far, the average speed of a normal human gait is about 3 miles per hour or 264 feet per minute. if you have a normal gait with no visible limitations you can walk 200 feet in 45 seconds. So if you can walk for 45 seconds with a normal gait, please do not park in handicap parking.

    Too many people today with placards do not meet this severely limited qualification. They may very well have limited walking abilities, but are not severely limited. This is one of the main reason the number of issued handicap parking permits has skyrocketed. Add on top of that the fraudulent use of placards (friends and family using placards being #1) and those who blatantly park in handicap parking without a placard. No wonder its very difficult these days for those who truly cannot walk 200 feet to find open handicap parking spaces. And even harder for those requiring van accessible spaces.

    If you have the means, even if it takes extra time and effort, please park in non-handicap spaces. Leaving the handicap spaces open to those who otherwise, even with extra time and effort, can not access goods and services without parking in them.


  1. Too many people today with placards do not meet this severely limited qualification. They may very well have limited walking abilities, but are not severely limited. please visit to



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