Here I would like to present two potentially useful insights into the general problem of so-called “invisible” disabilities, by which I mean any number of potentially disabling conditions all of which have the common characteristic of being more or less difficult to see, understand, and accept as legitimate by anyone lacking the often specialized and/or up-to-date training required to diagnose them directly. Depending on the disability, this can include not just family members, friends, and co-workers, but even medical health professionals, including doctors whose experience and expertise lay in domains that aren’t directly relevant to the disability in question.
Such disabling conditions may include,
“…debilitating pain, fatigue, dizziness, cognitive dysfunctions, brain injuries, learning differences and mental health disorders, as well as hearing and vision impairments. These are not always obvious to the onlooker, but can sometimes or always limit daily activities, range from mild challenges to severe limitations, and vary from person to person.” (The Invisible Disabilities Association, How Do You Define Invisible Disability?)
Me and My “Invisible” Autism
For an example from my own life, since childhood I have struggled chronically for rational control over my own attention, striven excessively to organize my entire life around strict rituals and routines, and more or less botched up every interpersonal relationship I’ve ever had at home, school, or work. But it wasn’t until November 2016, just after my 53rd birthday, that I was properly diagnosed with the Autism Spectrum Disorder that best explains this particular triad of symptoms.
Now, one would think that such a diagnosis could only be a good thing, and I sincerely believe that in the long run it will turn out to be. The short run, however, has been a mixed bag. On the upside I finally have proper medical and therapeutic support, and at least the most important members of my family have come to embrace my diagnosis as a fulfilling source of answers to questions like “Whoa, what is up with him?” and “Why the Hell did he do that?”
But I regret to say that the reaction of many has been less than sympathetic. Although much of this unsympathetic feedback is unspoken and revealed passively aggressively, at least a few hardy free-thinkers have been bluntly honest and highly articulate in their antipathy towards me. For example, consider these highly critical comments from one reader:
“…You’re not disabled. You’re just obsessed and angry…You’re a complete fraud. It’s my opinion whether you like it or not…someone with your intellect can easily research a psychological condition, go to a doctor, tell them what they want to hear listen to your tall tales of misfortune and assign you a diagnosis….”
Or this one:
“You’re a sad little man playing the victim card while continually breaking rules you don’t like. Seriously, grow up.”
Or this blurb (note the sadism of the final line):
“This blog is a testimony to someone who’s only ailments are selfcenterness, selfishness and greed. With the amount of energy and time you have put into this thing you could have already had another job for months. If you really have autism why don’t you blog about your search for a new job with your supposed ailment. I doubt you will though because that would be constructive and helpful to people with autism. Unfortunately the only thing readers have to look forward to is an awkward 3 month break in posts followed by a new entry about how your butthole hurts because you got your $hit puuuuussshed Innnn while in Prison….”
But perhaps the most spectacular manifestation of this brand of hostility can be seen in the relentless and ongoing attempts by roughly a dozen individuals — mostly MetLife employees — to punish me for (what they must imagine to be my) pretending to have a disability and attempting to exploit public sympathy for my own selfish gain.
Not that any of my former colleagues has accused me out loud of such fraudulent behavior, but at this point I think that is the hypothesis most likely to explain their collective and vindictive behavior toward me. These people can’t all be sociopaths, and if they sincerely believed me to have a legitimate disability I’m sure their behavior would have been very different. No, the most likely reason for their numerous and ongoing attempts to punish me is that they think I’m only faking my disability and that therefore I deserve to be punished.
Two Main Insights
I have thought a great deal about this whole situation and written quite a bit about it on this blog already, but here I wish to summarize my two main insights into the general problem. The first one is that these very angry but surely otherwise good people simply lack the training they would need in order to see, understand, and accept for themselves my Autism Spectrum Disorder as a legitimate disability. Because they lack this training, it really appears to them that I don’t have any disability at all, and so the obvious conclusion for them is that I must be faking it.
Although in such situations it is popular to reference the idea of an “invisible” disability, I believe this approach unfairly lays the burden of proof on the person with the so-called “invisible” disability, while lending an unearned legitimacy to anyone, e.g. a Disability Insurance company, who stands to profit or otherwise benefit from not seeing the given disability.
In order to solve these problems, elsewhere I have suggested the idea of Disability Blindness, which explicitly acknowledges the objective possibility that, for example, a failure by Jones to see Smith’s disability might very well result from the fact that Jones simply lacks the training he would require to see it. This perspective at once shifts the burden of proof off of Smith and onto Jones, while demanding that Jones earn his legitimacy by acquiring the proper training. For a demonstration of how I have used this strategy to respond to one of my own harshest critics, please see the following 3-part series of blog posts:
- Am I Really Pretending to Be Disabled, Or Are You Just Pretending Not to See My Disability? An Open Letter to a Disability Claims Investigator, Part 1
- Am I Really Pretending to Be Disabled, Or Are You Just Pretending Not to See My Disability? An Open Letter to a Disability Claims Investigator, Part 2
- Am I Really Pretending to Be Disabled, Or Are You Just Pretending Not to See My Disability? An Open Letter to a Disability Claims Investigator, Part 3
The second main insight is that such Disability Blindness can actually be quite beneficial for some people, even profitable, and that for anyone who stands to profit or benefit in some way from being unable to see certain kinds of disabilities, such a person will tend to stubbornly resist the training he or she needs in order to see, understand and accept them them as legitimate. He or she will resist the training so as not to lose the profit/benefit.
This second insight can actually be expressed as a psychological law:
A Fundamental Law of Disability-Blindness
Given some disability that cannot be easily seen, understood, and accepted as legitimate without adequate training (e.g. psychiatric disabilities, chronic pain, etc.), a given layperson (one lacking such training) will nonetheless be able to see, understand, and accept the disability as legitimate to the extent that the disability doesn’t threaten to burden or inconvenience the layperson in any significant way.
Also, to the extent that the layperson perceives that he or she may be burdened or inconvenienced in some way by the disability in question, said layperson will resist the training and continue to find it difficult to see, understand, and accept the disability as legitimate, and this so as to escape the perceived burden or inconvenience.
All disabilities pose challenges to those who have them, but when a given disability can only be detected by people with specialized training, everyone else may succumb to the illusion that the disability is non-existent and conclude that the person with the disability is faking and attempting to exploit public sympathy for private gain. This illusion of cheating can give rise to hostility that may be expressed either covertly or overtly toward the person with the disability, thus greatly exacerbating the basic challenges associated with the disability.
In such situations, it becomes essential to understand the underlying psychological forces that are driving this hostility in order to find positive and constructive ways to cope with it. The insight, first, that the alleged “invisibility” of the disability may be due entirely to a correctable lack of training on the part of the layperson, and second, that the layperson may stand to lose profit or other benefit by acquiring such training can go a long way toward creating that essential understanding.
Of course, the above is not offered as any sort of exhaustive theory of Disability Blindness, but I’m hoping it’s a useful contribution to such a theory. I invite you to offer any thoughts, ideas, or feedback which may help to elaborate and complete the theory in a comment below.
Thanks for reading!
 For background and context see Hate Mail from That Disability Claims Investigator, Part 1.
For background and context see Anonymous Guest-Blogger or Annoying Troll, Part 1: Who Is ‘Sulla Felix’?
This bit of sadistic nonsense was left by an anonymous reader on my post Warning: This Blog Just Might Scare The Shit out of You.
To summarize briefly: first these individuals unlawfully resisted my requests for reasonable accommodation of my disability, taking 7 months to revise a 1 page document granting my request (which was still wrong); then they fired me unlawfully because I filed a first complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for resisting my requests for reasonable accommodation; then they lied to the EEOC about why they fired me, giving the EEOC an excuse to drop the investigation of my second complaint against the company; then they tried to buy my permission to use their psychologically brutal tactics on others (I call the ensemble of these tactics The MetLife Meat Grinder); and now they’re fixing to send me to jail because I staged a one-man, totally non-violent, civilly disobedient protest at their campus in Cary, NC in order (among other things) to raise public awareness of The MetLife Meat Grinder.
For a more complete understanding, see, for example:
- The MetLife Meat Grinder: A Significant Public Health Concern
- The Morally Mature, Civic-Minded, Grown-Up Thing to Do: Yet, Another Open Letter to the Mysterious Mr. Phicks
- Is MetLife’s Code of Conduct Recklessly Incoherent Bullshit? — An Open Letter to MetLife CEO Steven A. Kandarian
- An Open Letter to A Certain EEOC Deputy District Director.
- I Was Gang-Raped by MetLife Employees: Another Open Letter to the People of Earth.