Discrimination towards the invisible disabilities

A relative who is unable to work due to an autoimmune disease has just posted her outrage on Facebook at the discrimination she experiences from looking “normal” but not working.  Snide remarks like, “you don’t look disabled/sick/brain injured, etc” followed by admonishments that plenty of other people with a disability can find a job have prompted her venting on Facebook today.

I have an invisible disability, too, since a car accident nearly 10 years ago left me with Acquired Brain Injury. I too, have suffered rude, ignorant accusations of being a malingerer, faking it, etc. According to statistics, more than 80% of people receiving Centrelink Disability Support Pensions have an invisible disability. These could be due to a mental health illness, an internal organ dysfunction, soft tissue damage, a brain injury  caused by a stroke, to name  a few.  One does not have to be in a wheelchair with tubes coming out of them to be unable to work.

Centrelink would have granted the pension based on the conditions having been defined by the individual’s specialists as making them an “unreliable employee” & therefore at risk to an employer or others in the workplace.  Unreliable, however, does not mean irresponsible. It could mean that pain, effects from medications, short term memory loss, dysfunctional behaviours, etc prevent someone with an invisible disability from effectively performing the tasks of most job descriptions. Time is money & employers cannot take the risk of putting on a person who is not likely to be competent. Of course, there are many other complex factors, too, which prevent people with an invisible disability from being offered employment.

What causes the rude & the ignorant to believe they have the right to accuse others, about whom they know little &  whose ailments they don’t understand, to make offensive remarks & draw conclusions based on nothing more than personal opinion? How dare they! Since when did voicing one’s ignorant, uneducated, unsolicited opinions become a right? Why has shooting (off one’s mouth) first & asking questions later become de rigueur? Imagine if I met a an overweight person & told them “you’re fat!” or called a person with cerebral palsy a “spaz”? We’d be pulled into line & shamed.  Well, what gives the ignorant & prejudiced the right to blame & shame those with an unseen disability?

Well, I’m as mad as hell & not going to take it anymore. If you experience these insidious opinions, don’t take it on board & feel bad about yourself.  Such ignoramuses want a confrontation. They want to see you upset. Call it what it is: bullying. Fuck ’em, I say. Ignore, walk away, or have them forcibly removed for harassment but don’t give your power away by allowing them to make you feel ashamed for something you cannot help.

Further information: http://synapse.org.au/

6 responses to “Discrimination towards the invisible disabilities”

  1. Chrys Stevenson says :

    A very important post. A member of my family was forced to apply for a Disability Pension at one point and I know it wasn’t easy to get. And you’re right! Many disabilities are invisible: fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue and depression to name just a few.

    The world would be a better place if we could all be a lot less judgemental. As I said to someone hating on fat people the other day, “Everyone has a back story, and unless you know it, you have no right to judge them.”

  2. suzieburke says :

    I agree Gerowyn. It is not up to you to justify your situation or condition to anyone. I am bipolar and sometimes experience memory loss after a manic phase. Up until two years ago, I have been able to work but then it was my age, over 50 that presented itself as a barrier. I’m writing a screenplay for television and a film treatment without funding to give my life a sense of purpose, fulfil my dream to be a writer and hopefully gain employment. Who knows where your blog will lead? Paid employment as a consultant to Centrelink. You never know. I’ve been on a disability pension for several years and I’m allowed to go on and off it. Not being dependant on the government is wonderful but when I have to, I have to. Looking forward to your next instalment. Suzie

  3. Jane Douglas says :

    Great start to your blog, Gerowyn!

    I wrote an assignment on what using public transport is like for people with disabilities recently. I interviewed seven people, most of whom have disabilities that are not very visible. The stories they told me where horrendous. From buses starting before they were seated causing them injuries to having to decide whether it will take more energy to stand all the way into the city or argue with the woman sitting in the disabled seating who doesn’t think they look sufficiently disabled to warrant a seat. It was a real eye-opener for me. The discrimination suffered by disabled people is largely invisible to we able-bodied folk. Thank you for writing about this important issue.

    • gerowynhanson says :

      Hi Jane,
      Thanks for taking a peek at my blog on invisible disabilities. I was very interested to read that you had interviewed people with invisible disabilities & so understood some of the negative judgement & discrimination we can experience. I have even been charged full fare on public buses when I was interstate a few years ago, despite showing my Australian Govt Concession Card. I was told I did not look disabled & so was not eligible to receive a discount in NSW. A similar event happened 2 years ago in WA, but was given generous discounts on buses in Tasmania & also on interstate NSW/Qld rail. It beggars belief. I didn’t know who to complain to at that time but when I called Centrelink they were surprised, however they remarked that they supposed it was up to the individual bus companies to decide. On another occasion here in Qld when I was on a train travelling between the Sunshine Coast & Brisbane, the fare inspectors were doing spot checks on tickets & Go Cards. I’ve never had any problems before or since but on this one occasion was asked to present ID to prove I was the person whose name was encoded on the the Concession Go Card. I was astonished & asked why. The inspectors asked to see my Concession Card, which I duly presented, then demanded photographic evidence. I begrudgingly showed my passport. They could immediately see it was a match but commented that I didn’t look disabled. I snapped back that it was a discriminatory remark & they’d better watch themselves. They moved on. When I told friends & relatives about this, they too, were astounded & agreed that it certainly was discrimination. My God, it must be happening to a lot of people with invisible disabilities. Thanks for sharing.

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