In Canada, more than 6.2 million people identify as living with one or more forms of disability that limits their daily lives according to a 2017 Canadian Survey on Disability by Statistics Canada.
Here in Nova Scotia, almost 230,000 people identify as disabled. In fact, this tiny province has the highest rate of disabled citizens (at 30%) across Canada. A figure and a fact that is 8% higher than the national average, this reality includes a higher number of young people with disabilities (Government of Nova Scotia).
And globally, 1 billion people experience life with disability. That’s 15% of our planet’s population and, according to the World Health Organization, this number is rapidly increasing.
MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE
Most people automatically think “wheelchair” or “white cane” when they hear the word “disability,” and while these are certainly easy to spot disabilities, the fact is that most people live with disabilities that are not easily seen on the surface.
I am one of the vast majority of disabled people who live with non-visible conditions and illnesses. We are your loved ones, neighbours, colleagues, leaders and learners. Hiding in plain sight, with the priviledge of being “able-passing,” I learned to conceal my disability when I started experiencing ableism, invalidation and discrimination. Until I was affected by physical disability, I was able to mask and manage being different in other ways.
As time has passed, I have become more visibly disabled — often, met with confused or skeptical looks, and ableist comments and judgments (“You seem normal” // “You’re too young to be disabled” // “Other people have it worse” // “At least you’re not in a wheelchair – that’s real disability” // “Don’t tell anyone or you’ll kill your career” // “You’re not disabled enough” // “You look to good to have something wrong with you” // “Are you sure? You look fine to me” // “Mind over matter – think positive!”).
Worse was the advice from well-intentioned people I cared about and respected, who told me I should hide it or deny it, and never speak of it out loud as though it was a shame or problem that would put a target on my back. Surrounded by ableism, seeing the marked difference in how I was treated if I disclosed, and seeing my opportunities and lifestyle placed at risk, I learned to, yet again, hide my struggles.
Those were incredibly lonely times, isolated and afraid for the future. I tried to carry on, and learned to suffer in silence and isolation. And yet, the world still changed for me, even if I masked as abled. For many women, this is an all-too-common experience, from autism spectrum disorder to other chronic illness.
It has taken me a decade to feel ready enough — and fed up enough — to become more vocal about my experience as a disabled woman who appears “visibly fine.” Between my own lived experience, that of a grandparent who struggle with disabling chronic pain (who was also dismissed), I also gained professional experience in the disability community through work and volunteer roles. All roads led here, wanting to advocate for my community and help abled people become better allies for disabled people.
I’m passionate about continuing authentic, intersectional, societal conversations about disability rights and effecting real change. As a public relations communicator, writer, facilitator and speaker, I’ll be sharing ideas, resources, and best practices for inclusive language and dismantling ableism.
With storytelling via this blog, a forthcoming podcast and other social content, I’ll share life through my lens – the wins, the challenges and the in-between of life with disability. Of course, I’ll be slowly developing this project while balancing my own disbaility management, personal life and professional life, so thanks in advance for your patience! In the meantime, you can also follow me at @VisiblyFine on both Instagram and TikTok.
Remember, no two disabilities are alike, and all disabilities are valid. Let’s be kind to one another as we learn and unlearn what’s needed to make a more inclusive, healthy and equitable world for everyone. See you again soon!
Land Acknowledgement: I respectfully acknowledge that the land on which I live and work is the traditional, unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq People. I also recognize that the land on which I was born and raised is the traditional, unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq, Innu, Inuit and the Southern Inuit of NunatuKavut (formerly the Labrador Inuit-Metis). Learn about the Indigenous sovereign lands you are located on with Native Land Digital.
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