While browsing Reddit recently, I came across a discussion about how to tell people that you have a disability. I have never had the luxury of nondisclosure because my disability has always been visible and I often use mobility aids. However, I have experienced the feelings the poster talks about and dealt with the negative reactions that have come from confronting, discussing, and dealing with a disability with an able-bodied person.
Reading the comments made me think a lot about my own life and the way talking about my disability has changed. As a child, I felt empowered by the knowledge that I had about my disability. But in truth, I had a lot of questions and resentments as well. As a teenager, I wanted it to be the very last thing listed in my MySpace biography, and I would never use the word “disabled” to describe myself. Now, as a young adult, I have embraced who I am, and as a result, I talk about myself a little differently.
I actually typed “How do you tell people you have a disability?” into Google and I didn’t find very many people sharing their stories or lists of steps and advice. I realize that this is because everyone’s journey is different.
I think that owning your disability is one of the biggest steps you can take toward self-advocacy and self-care. You know yourself, your needs, and your limitations better than anyone, and simply educating yourself about your disability and embracing it as a part of what makes you you can provide the confidence boost when you feel you need to disclose your disability to someone.
Here are my pieces of advice for disclosing your disability to someone:
- If you can, choose who you tell. You don’t have to tell everyone everything about yourself if you don’t want to. If you’re not able to choose, know that you don’t have to talk about anything you don’t want to with anybody you don’t want to discuss it with.
- If the person becomes judgmental, you can excuse yourself from the situation. You don’t need to engage in an uphill battle. You don’t owe anyone an explanation for how you live your life. You don’t need that person in your life anyway.
- If the person becomes uncomfortable, maybe ask them why they are. For many people, chronic illness isn’t something they experience every day. They’re uncomfortable about what they don’t know, and you are in a position to represent yourself and your disability positively in the way that you provide insight to the person.
- If you’re uncomfortable about conversations regarding work and what you do for a living, talk about your passions, your goals, and things you like to do instead. Remember, you are a person and you hold value in society — even if you don’t hold a 9-5 job. You can still impact someone’s life and bring them great joy and experience.
- Be yourself and be confident because you are awesome.
Go forth with your truth.
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