Hidden disabilities—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.
People without disabilities easily underestimate the challenges facing those who have a disability that is not immediately obvious.
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 appear to have a disability. Keep in mind that this is likely the case with many who attend your congregation.
Some who live with the challenge of a hidden disability are able to be fully active at work, sports, hobbies, and church activities. Others can maintain full- or part-time employment but have little energy for other things. Still others are unable to maintain employment due to their disability and have trouble with ordinary congregational activities. As with all other human beings, each one 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).
For information about certain hidden disabilities, you can follow links in the right column. And always, remember to treat others as you’d wish to be treated in their place. You may be there some day.
Challenges for a person with a hidden disability (From the Hawaii Center for Disability Studies.):
- They may not know they have a disability or regard themselves as such.
- They may not have been diagnosed.
- They may not know what they need.
- They may know what they need, but are unable to articulate it.
- They may often feel misunderstood or may feel ignored or feel invalidated.
- They may suspect something is wrong, but not know what it is or how to fix it.
Resource from others
A Church 4 Every Child: A blog promoting meaningful connection between churches and families of kids with disabilities (particularly hidden disabilities) for the purpose of making disciples of Jesus Christ.