Reminder: Not being able to see someone's disability doesn't mean they don't have one

When I was pregnant with my third child, I developed a condition called SPD (symphisis pubis dysfunction) that made standing or walking for too long excruciatingly painful. I was only four months pregnant and looked perfectly healthy, but I had to use the motorized carts at the grocery store to do my shopping. When I'd stop the cart and walk to a shelf to pick out an item, I often wondered if people questioned why I was using the cart. I wasn't elderly, and I wasn't injured. I barely looked pregnant and could clearly could stand and walk. Did they wonder if I was just lazy and selfishly taking the cart from someone who really needed it?

That was my first taste of what daily life can be like for the millions of people living with invisible disabilities.


I have friends and family members with rheumatoid arthritis, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, POTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome), and other conditions that sometimes affect their ability to move or be active. You can't tell that they struggle with pain or motility or exhaustion just by looking at them. They appear healthy, and they can move freely on some, or even most, days. But when they can't, they can't. They sometimes need assistance from canes or wheelchairs or other accommodations when their bodies flare up on them.

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A Facebook post from children's book author Kristen Waldbieser has gone viral for pointing out how such invisible disabilities can be overlooked or downplayed by others. Waldbieser has POTS, and she shared two photos of herself at a Disney theme park—one in a wheelchair with the caption, "This is me," and one where she's standing and posing with the caption, "This is also me."

She wrote:

"Yesterday I was at Disney, and I was using my wheelchair, which I need to go long distances (like a theme park). Anyway, I stood up to take a photo, and someone said (jokingly), 'Oh, the wheelchair is a hoax!' They quickly followed that they were kidding. However, the words stung with me. No, I don't need my wheelchair every day. But my wheelchair helps me get places that I otherwise probably couldn't go. But just because I don't need it every day, doesn't mean it's not real and it's not needed. It is not a hoax. And even jokingly, it's not ok to say that to someone. Not all disabilities or chronic illness looks the same. And it's time to break that stigma that those with chronic illnesses are faking it, which unfortunately, is heard by so many far too often. Long story short, you never know someone else's story, so please be kind with your words. 💖"

The person may not have intended any harm in their "kidding" remark, but it's not funny to jokingly accuse someone of faking their needs—especially because so many people really do assume that their conditions aren't really that bad.

Such assumptions are particularly prevalent for young people with invisible disabilities. Isa Fitzgibbons, 15, was 12 years old when she was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. One day, she was using a wheelchair at the zoo when she felt the judgment from a group of college students. "They seemed respectful enough," she said, "until I got up to walk to the restroom. Then they started pointing and whispering, and I felt like an exhibit for them."

That incident stopped her from using a wheelchair in public for a long time. "It's a struggle to explain why you're limping, or how you're not lazy, you're just in pain—or why you're in pain," she says.

Ramona Gregory, 20, has both Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and POTS. She's always been active—in fact, she runs her own cheerleading business. But her active life is spotted with days where just basic functioning is difficult, a reality that was particularly challenging in high school.

"I had a plan in choir class where I would sit down when I needed to since I couldn't stand for the entire class period without fainting," she told Upworthy. "The teacher was really cool about it. Kids around me though kept assuming I was slacking off and would act annoyed at me. Some kids would even follow my lead and sit down after me, although the teacher would promptly tell them to stand."

Gregory also says it's difficult for her to use a walker in public, even when she needs to. "I'm constantly afraid someone is going to say I'm faking it because I don't use it every day."

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Gregory's mom, Heléna, also has EDS and POTS (both can be inherited, though aren't always). She sometimes feels anxious about using a disability parking plaque, fearing people might get mad because she doesn't appear disabled. But that's not the only struggle.

"One of the really difficult things is being afraid of posting or sharing really awesome things you do because it looks like you're just living it up and not really disabled," she told Upworthy. "People don't see the preparation and the aftermath of participating in both normal functions and the fun stuff."

She enjoys mountain biking, for example, but only rides with her husband or by herself. "I can't just jump on my bike and go," she says. "My heart rate, blood pressure, and adrenaline are unpredictable, and I"m on and off the bike continually. I tried to ride with others but found I had to explain everything, like I was listing off excuses. Others would get annoyed. One time I ditched my bike and passed out on the side of the trail. The response was that I needed to get myself together because I was embarrassing the other riders in our group. People just don't get it, even when it comes down to actually losing consciousness."

"We spend a lot of time faking normalcy just so we don't draw attention or judgment. We hide what we do to avoid judgment," she says. "That's really it. People judge and that sucks."

It does suck. But hopefully stories like these will help more of us recognize that people are struggling with disabilities or chronic illnesses that we can't see and have no room or reason to judge anyone else's accommodations.

Well Being

On an old episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in July 1992, Oprah put her audience through a social experiment that puts racism in a new light. Despite being nearly two decades old, it's as relevant today as ever.

She split the audience members into two groups based on their eye color. Those with brown eyes were given preferential treatment by getting to cut the line and given refreshments while they waited to be seated. Those with blue eyes were made to put on a green collar and wait in a crowd for two hours.

Staff were instructed to be extra polite to brown-eyed people and to discriminate against blue-eyed people. Her guest for that day's show was diversity expert Jane Elliott, who helped set up the experiment and played along, explaining that brown-eyed people were smarter than blue-eyed people.

Watch the video to see how this experiment plays out.

Oprah's Social Experiment on Her Audience www.youtube.com

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Cadbury has removed the words from its Dairy Milk chocolate bars in the U.K. to draw attention to a serious issue, senior loneliness.

On September 4, Cadbury released the limited-edition candy bars in supermarkets and for every one sold, the candy giant will donate 30p (37 cents) to Age UK, an organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for the elderly.

Cadbury was prompted to help the organization after it was revealed that 225,000 elderly people in the UK often go an entire week without speaking to another person.

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Well Being

Young people today are facing what seems to be greater exposure to complex issues like mental health, bullying, and youth violence. As a result, teachers are required to be well-versed in far more than school curriculum to ensure students are prepared to face the world inside and outside of the classroom. Acting as more than teachers, but also mentors, counselors, and cheerleaders, they must be equipped with practical and relevant resources to help their students navigate some of the more complicated social issues – though access to such tools isn't always guaranteed.

Take Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, for example, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years, and as a teacher for seven. Entering the profession, she didn't anticipate how much influence a student's home life could affect her classroom, including "students who lived in foster homes" and "lacked parental support."

Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience, says it can be difficult to create engaging course work that's applicable to the challenges students face. "I think that sometimes, teachers don't know where to begin. Teachers are always looking for ways to make learning in their classrooms more relevant."

So what resources do teachers turn to in an increasingly fractured world? "Joining a professional learning network that supports and challenges thinking is one of the most impactful things that a teacher can do to support their own learning," Anglemyer says.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience.

A new program for teachers that offers this network along with other resources is the WE Teachers Program, an initiative developed by Walgreens in partnership with ME to WE and Mental Health America. WE Teachers provides tools and resources, at no cost to teachers, looking for guidance around the social issues related to poverty, youth violence, mental health, bullying, and diversity and inclusion. Through online modules and trainings as well as a digital community, these resources help them address the critical issues their students face.

Jessica Mauritzen, a high school Spanish teacher, credits a network of support for providing her with new opportunities to enrich the learning experience for her students. "This past year was a year of awakening for me and through support… I realized that I was able to teach in a way that built up our community, our school, and our students, and supported them to become young leaders," she says.

With the new WE Teachers program, teachers can learn to identify the tough issues affecting their students, secure the tools needed to address them in a supportive manner, and help students become more socially-conscious, compassionate, and engaged citizens.

It's a potentially life-saving experience for students, and in turn, "a great gift for teachers," says Dr. Sanderlin.

"I wish I had the WE Teachers program when I was a teacher because it provides the online training and resources teachers need to begin to grapple with these critical social issues that plague our students every day," she adds.

In addition to the WE Teachers curriculum, the program features a WE Teachers Award to honor educators who go above and beyond in their classrooms. At least 500 teachers will be recognized and each will receive a $500 Walgreens gift card, which is the average amount teachers spend out-of-pocket on supplies annually. Teachers can be nominated or apply themselves. To learn more about the awards and how to nominate an amazing teacher, or sign up for access to the teacher resources available through WE Teachers, visit walgreens.com/metowe.

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One of the major differences between women and men is that women are often judged based on their looks rather than their character or abilities.

"Men as well as women tend to establish the worth of individual women primarily by the way their body looks, research shows. We do not do this when we evaluate men," Naomi Ellemers Ph.D. wrote in Psychology Today.

Dr. Ellers believes that this tendency to judge a woman solely on her looks causes them to be seen as an object rather than a person.

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