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'Invisible' disabilities often lead to misunderstandings

Have you ever met someone who appeared to be healthy, but later hear that he or she is disabled? Many conditions do not require the use of a wheelchair or cane. They do not cause obvious physical limitations, like cerebral palsy or ALS might. But they still significantly affect the person’s life, and may make earning an income through work impossible.

Conditions like fibromyalgia and Crohn’s disease can be painful, exhausting and limiting. But some people see a disabled person use a disabled parking spot and judge the person because they do not see signs of a more “obvious” condition. Or when a person with an “invisible” disability asks for reasonable accommodations, employers, classmates or others may assume the disabled person is asking for special treatment.

This presents a special difficulty in the workplace, when employers do not take a disabled employee’s request for accommodation seriously, as they are supposed to under the law. Most employment disability discrimination complaints filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission between 2005 and 2010 were made by people with invisible conditions.

Even for those who do not work due to their condition, the stares and judgmental comments of strangers and acquaintances can be embarrassing and upsetting.

Many invisible conditions qualify the patient for Social Security Disability benefits, if they have been forced to stop working as a result. These benefits can help them make ends meet for as long as they need them. SSD benefits have made a real difference in the lives of so many people in Missouri.

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