This past Thursday, The Invisible Disability Discussion panel, consisting of four students, related the problems and virtues coming with disabilities that cannot be observed by others.“Hopefully people will learn how to think about disabilities differently after this panel,” said Dr. Adam Meyer, director of the Disability Resource Center.
“I think it is much more difficult to discuss an invisible disability,” he added. “As soon as someone with a wheelchair comes into a room they are effectively telling you their disability.”
The panel consisted of freshman Marlee McGinnis, who is diagnosed with epilepsy; Joan Stauffer, a therapy major with ADHD; Jess Robinson, who suffers from chronic pain and Mike Strasko, who admitted in the beginning he was anxious about the panel due to his anxiety and OCD.
As part of the interactivity of the panel, audience members were given remotes to electronically cast votes .One question asked whether people with invisible disabilities felt judged in social situations. Although the audience largely agreed they do, some panelists disagreed saying almost in unison that because their disabilities were invisible it wasn’t often brought up.
“Even if they aren’t accepting of me, I try to be accepting of them,” Stauffer said in reference to telling friends and others about her disability.However, the panel agreed that while acceptance was important, there was apprehension to revealing disabilities to others.
“Nobody wants to be considered different or on another wavelength as their friends,” Strasko said.
The panelists recounted stories of how their disabilities have set them back, such as Stauffer who recounted being criticized because she “couldn’t follow directions.”
And Jess Robinson spoke of a teacher who thought the accommodations she asked for her disability were an excuse and accused her of being on drugs.
In asking for accommodations, the panelists did find many professors to be helpful.
“They empower you to be an advocate for yourself,” Stauffer said.
And though the panelists found the resources teachers provided to be helpful, they often didn’t connect with a personal story or an extension of sympathy. A “pity party” was one thing most of the panelist said they didn’t want.
“People assume it’s the worst kind,” McGinnis said referring to her epilepsy. “I haven’t had a seizure in a long time. And I am thankful for that.”
There was a pause in the discussion to show a video featuring a deaf woman named Karen.
She recalled how she pulled up to the drive-through window of a fast-food restaurant to tell the manager she couldn’t hear the person through the ordering speaker, only to have the window slammed in her face and the manager threatening to call the cops after she wouldn’t go back to the speaker.
During the question-and-answer session at the end, members were asked whether they would rather live without their disability.
While the panelists admitted things were not always rosy, they would not want to live without their disability.
“For the most part, I am happy with who I am,” Strasko said.
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