Stop saying “but you don’t look sick”

Everyone has seen it or heard someone make the comment. Whether it’s a seemingly healthy person taking a handicapped parking spot or the front seat on the bus, it’s rare not to hear someone whisper “they’re not even sick.”

According to Disabled World, it is estimated that “96 percent of people with chronic medical conditions live with an illness that is invisible”. That demographic covers approximately 10 percent of the total U.S. population. Invisible does not mean equal imaginary. Plenty of conditions, whether they’re chronic pain conditions that can stem from Lupus or Fibromyalgia, mental illnesses like anxiety, depression or OCD, visual or auditory disabilities that don’t require canes and hearing aids or any other kind of ailment that’s undetectable from the outside are considered invisible illnesses. Even though we can’t see them, it doesn’t mean they’re not there.

Humans seem to have this (occasionally harmful) natural instinct to assume everyone is healthy unless we can see otherwise. Meaning, unless we see someone who clearly has some sort of medical condition, like if they’re an amputee or have cochlear implants, we don’t automatically assume that they’re not able-bodied. This does make sense, generally, since not everyone we meet has some sort of chronic illness or disability.

However, if you see someone using a handicapped parking spot, a reserved seat on public transportation, a motorized scooter in the grocery store or any other kind of accommodation or mobility aid, try not to assume they don’t need it or that they’re messing around. This especially goes towards if a “younger” person is doing any of this— there’s no such thing as “you’re too young to be sick, to need that or be disabled.”

People need mobility aids, time to rest, places to sit down or other accommodations for a wide variety of reasons. Many chronic conditions come with a side effect of achiness or fatigue, meaning that even if you can’t visibly see bruises, swelling or any other indicator of pain, they might still be feeling it. Sitting down on a bus ride might help them save some energy that they need to walk to their home or job right after. Even if someone gets out of their handicapped-parked car looking completely healthy, they might need to park closer to the store because their hands hurt to carry their bags out after or walking back out after walking through the store might just be too much.

Additionally, don’t make these people “prove it” to you. Just because you’re curious or want to “make sure” they’re actually sick doesn’t make you entitled to asking them what’s wrong or berating them in public. A person using an accommodation isn’t an open invitation to rudely ask “what’s wrong with you?”

Are there people who do take advantage of these accommodations who don’t really need them? Of course. Are there younger kids and teens who think it’s fun to use mobility aids without needing them? You bet. But just because a few people might take advantage of a system doesn’t mean everyone who truly does need it should be penalized and scrutinized every time they try to make their lives a little closer to normal in public.

Chronic illnesses, fatigue, pain or mental illnesses are a reality for an unfortunately large number of people. It’s hard enough to handle having one of these problems— don’t make their lives more difficult by accusing them that what they’re feeling everyday isn’t real.

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