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Friday, July 01, 2022

Periodically, this story makes the rounds through headlines: Someone with an invisible illness has been publicly shamed for using accessible parking or other aids.

However, despite occasional media coverage, the shaming happens all over again and the same headlines come back. Coverage has not reached a wide enough audience because these stories keep happening.

News stories, social media, patient blogs or forums and health-geared sites found on the internet allow for more education and reach than ever before. The issue is that this information usually isn’t found unless you are looking for it. This means education often happens within the circles who are already sympathetic and aware.

Unfortunately for invisible illness patients, misinformation and unaware people add to their daily fight. It can be a mental fight to get the aid in the first place. Already, you feel judgment, guilt and frustration. This is on top of daily symptoms, adjusting to new situations and fighting for health care.

I see the root of the issue as people having a preconceived notion of disability. This notion needs to change. One of the issues in classifying disability is that accessible aids are marked with a person in a wheelchair. However, not everyone who needs the parking spot, the accessible stall or the ramp is in a wheelchair. In this way, disability is characterized as visible, even though it often isn’t. Additionally, some people only use mobile aids when a flaring of symptoms requires it. This can add further accusations of faking an illness for convenience.

Sometimes even people in the medical field can cause harm. Often, people fight for years before one doctor believes in them enough to do a certain test or believe the significance of their symptoms.

Invisible illnesses can be misunderstood and have less awareness, even in medicine. These diagnoses are complicated and vary from person to person.

I’ve heard “You’re young to have this” or “It’s in your head.” Doctors have refused to listen to my symptoms and dismissed them right away.

I’ve gone through the emergency room, hospital and four of the same area of specialists before finally getting a recent diagnosis. Then, it was questioned again, which resulted in more testing to confirm the same thing again. It’s exhausting.

Why would someone fake an illness? While there are cases of fakers, it is a minority. People who need help should not face backlash for others’ wrongdoings.

Sickness or disability isn’t a specific look. People with accommodations are not obligated to explain why they need help.

Those who are well-intentioned in looking out for misused handicap placards are often causing more harm than good. Invisible illness is something that is constantly questioned. Amid enough pain and guilt, further suffering by questioning aids is added stress and fear of going out in public.

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People shouldn’t fear living their life how they want to. Getting accommodations is enough of a fight. There shouldn’t be fighting daily to prove to society that these accommodations are warranted.

Sophie Feinberg is a UF journalism junior. Her column comes out Tuesday and Thursday.


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