Hidden disabilities


Hidden disabilities

empty church pews

People without disabilities easily underestimate the challenges facing those who have a disability that is not immediately obvious.

The terms "Hidden" or "Invisible" disabilities cover a broad range of conditions. Examples include: renal failure, diabetes, sleep disorders, visual or auditory impairments, fibromyalgia or chronic pain due to other conditions, mental illnesses, chronic dizziness, and many more—affecting up to 10% of the population.

Psychiatric disabilities make up a large segment of those that may be “hidden.” Just as people without disabilities easily underestimate the talents of people with visible disabilities, they easily underestimate the challenges facing those who do not visually appear to have a disability. There is a high likelihood that a congregation of any size contains multiple people who have a hidden disability.

Some people with a hidden disability are able to be fully active with work, sports, hobbies, and church activities. Others can maintain full- or part-time employment but have little energy for other things. Still others are must choose which activities and tasks they have the energy for each week: will they attend the church function or their child's baseball game? Will they work a full day or clean their house? As with all other human beings, each person with a hidden disability is a beloved child of God and belongs in an equal measure to God’s community in the church.

Assume that disabilities you do not know about are present, and plan for people with hidden disabilities.

In churches (as in all of life) it is important not to judge other people by their appearance, since hidden disabilities can keep people from being able to do certain things and people with assistive devices will have abilities you can’t see. It is important to listen to people, first, when you meet them and when in conversation. Don’t assume, when you see someone walking from a car in a parking space reserved for people with disabilities, that they are taking advantage of the system. Instead, assume that disabilities you do not know about are present. Plan for people with hidden disabilities in church events (example: adequate sound amplification in meetings for those with hearing impairment).

Recommmended Reading:

  • Dancing with Elephants, Jarem Sawatsky

  • Being Well When We're Ill, Marva J. Dawn
  • The Wisdom of the Body, Christine Valters Paintner
  • Everything Happens for a Reason, Kate Bowler
  • No Cure for Being Human, Kate Bowler

Resource from others:

A Church 4 Every Child: A blog promoting meaningful connection between churches and families of children with disabilities (particularly hidden disabilities) for the purpose of making disciples of Jesus Christ. ​​​

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