accessibility · disability · fitness · walking

Assumptions about disability and reflections about visibility

During my recent visit to Spain and France I wore my knee brace a lot. I’ve been noticing how differently I’m treated when I wear it than not, even though my knee condition is the same.

Here’s some examples:

  • I was offered a space on the motorized wagon that drives passengers with mobility needs to the gate. (I declined.)
  • I was offered a seat on a bus. (Yes, thanks!)
  • I was told I couldn’t sit in the exit row of the plane for take off and landing as they needed a non disabled person in that seat because of the responsibilities that come with the bonus legroom. (I followed instructions.)
  • I sat rather than wait in line standing at hotel check in when someone pointed out the table. (See pic below.)

The things is I can walk lots with the knee brace but it’s when I am wearing the knee brace that people assume I can’t. Without the knee brace I might have wanted assistance getting speedily to the gate. Likewise, with the knee brace I think I would be a pretty capable person to have in the exit row of a plane but it’s only when I am wearing it that I am asked to move.

I’m not sure what the solution is but I’m pretty sure it’s going to involve me being more outspoken about my needs and asking for help.

Image description: A can of Spanish fizzy water and a glass full of it on a table with a sign with a disability symbol. Check in waiting area at Hotel REC Barcelona. After two flights, one bus, and a walk, I was grateful for the cold water and for the seat.
Image description: Sam taking a selfie in the hotel lobby mirror in Girona. She still hasn’t mastered the art of looking at the mirror instead of her phone. She’s dressed all in black except for bright orange running shoes, and beautiful scarf bought in Barcelona. Oh, also she is wearing her knee brace for walking around Girona.

7 thoughts on “Assumptions about disability and reflections about visibility

  1. Nice scarf. All you have to do for the mirror selfie is get all ready just like that and at the very last second lift your eyes to the mirror. THEN hit the shutter. You can do it (and help people in the exit row). Interesting issue you’re facing and no doubt so many whose needs for help are invisible. It’s funny how visible mobility aids signal a need for help when in fact they are often what makes a person not need the help.

  2. In terms of how to handle things without a knee brace…hmmm. Invisible pains and disabilities of any kind are tough because people often need to see to believe and when they don’t see…well, they don’t believe. Friends and families with invisible disabilities experience this problem all the time.

  3. I experience similar issues with my disabilities that are quite invisible unless you know exactly what you’re looking for. However, even on days where I wear my ‘please offer me a seat badge’ on public transport, it’s only the days where I use my walking stick that people don’t seem to judge me. When I just wear my badge people noticeably look me up and down, like they’re trying to determine if I actually have a need for a seat. Some assume I’m pregnant!
    For my whole life, I’ve experienced both the positives and negatives about only being seen as disabled when I have a visible aid.

  4. My daughter was diagnosed with juvenile arthritis 5 years ago at the age of 13 and she experiences this quite frequently. Most of the time this is an invisible disability. The treatment she gets when her arthritis is severe where she is in a wheelchair is very different than when it is not visible. That does not mean she is struggling any less in fact it is much more difficult for her when she has to explain her ailments when it is not easily seen. We can totally relate to this Sam and hope others become more aware about invisible disabilities. Thanks for writing about this.

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