What Do You Know about Invisible Disabilities?

In Islam, we know that disabled people are among those who should be visited, provided for, and shown care.

Unfortunately, in many communities, we have a limited understanding of who is disabled, what disability means and looks like. And we also don’t understand who deserves our care. This is because many cases are what is known as “invisible disabilities”.

What Are Invisible Disabilities?

They include neurodiversity (ADHD, autism, etc.), mental illness (bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, etc.), physical illnesses, and chronic pain that may not be readily evident to others.

For the purpose of this article, we will focus on illnesses and chronic pain conditions. 

Most people recognize disability if they see a mobility aid, such as a wheelchair, cane, crutches, etc. Even in those cases, it is not uncommon for misconceptions about disability to impact how people are related to. For example, there is an assumption that disability must be related to an injury or only happens to the elderly. 

You Cannot See All Disabilities

There are many reasons a younger person can be disabled. Their disability may not include using (or always using) a mobility aid. Injuries can have life-long impacts, causing pain and physical trauma that never completely heals.

Arthritis, for example, is not an old-age disease but can impact people of any age. And injuries increase the chances of having arthritis. Many conditions at birth impact people’s respiratory system, the heart, the spine, connective tissues, or bone strength.

There are also chronic pain conditions like fibromyalgia, migraines, and multiple sclerosis that outsiders will not easily recognize.

Many conditions that cause pain come with other side effects, such as digestive issues, fatigue, memory loss, and vision difficulties. These symptoms can vary from day to day.

I’m Tired of Being Sick All the Time

A compromised immune system may mean that one easily catches everything going around. Or pre-existing conditions like chronic bronchitis easily turn to pneumonia.

In other cases, it means the immune system is behaving as if it is being attacked even if it is not, but the chemicals the immune system releases lead to pain, nausea, and other symptoms. 

What About Temporary Disabilities?

Women who experience menstrual issues, miscarriages, etc. (which may be related to cancer, fibroids, and other conditions as well) would also fall under someone experiencing an invisible disability.

Often, these are treated as taboo topics that lead to a great deal of emotional harm, sense of isolation, and experiences of thoughtless or even unkind treatment.

The point is that there are many such pain and illness conditions – and in many cases, having one may cause another. Hearing loss can also happen at any age and may not be apparent.

These conditions are not readily obvious to others, but they are disabling.

Disability is not something that we can always “see” and it is not something that we should be judging. 

The Prophet (pbuh) exhibited excellent manners and care towards everyone, including many sahaba who had a various types of disabilities.

We may look out for the needs of people who have obvious disabilities, but often fail to be helpful to those with invisible disabilities.

Here are some things that Muslims with invisible disabilities wish our fellow Muslims would consider:

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About Aaminah Shakur
Aaminah Shakur is a 20+ year convert to Islam. As an artist, art historian, and writer, they are deeply engaged in social justice issues and the ethics of representation in media and visual culture.