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.

Courtesy of Creative Commons
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After years of service as a military nurse in the naval Marine Corps, Los Angeles, California-resident Rhonda Jackson became one of the 37,000 retired veterans in the U.S. who are currently experiencing homelessness — roughly eight percent of the entire homeless population.

"I was living in a one-bedroom apartment with no heat for two years," Jackson said. "The Department of Veterans Affairs was doing everything they could to help but I was not in a good situation."

One day in 2019, Jackson felt a sudden sense of hope for a better living arrangement when she caught wind of the ongoing construction of Veteran's Village in Carson, California — a 51-unit affordable housing development with one, two and three-bedroom apartments and supportive services to residents through a partnership with U.S.VETS.

Her feelings of hope quickly blossomed into a vision for her future when she learned that Veteran's Village was taking applications for residents to move in later that year after construction was complete.

"I was entered into a lottery and I just said to myself, 'Okay, this is going to work out,'" Jackson said. "The next thing I knew, I had won the lottery — in more ways than one."

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It was a mere three weeks ago that President Biden announced that the U.S. would have enough vaccine supply to cover every adult American by the end of July. At the time, that was good news.

Today, he's bumped up that date by two full months.

That's great news.

In his announcement to the nation, Biden outlined the updated process for getting the country immunized against COVID-19.


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We're redefining what normal means in these uncertain times, and although this is different for all of us, love continues to transform us for the better.

Love is what united Marie-Claire and David Archbold, who met while taking a photography class. "We went into the darkroom to see what developed," they joke—and after a decade of marriage, they know firsthand the deep commitment and connection romantic love requires.

All photos courtesy of Marie-Claire and David Archbold

However, their relationship became even sweeter when they adopted James: a little boy with a huge heart.

In the United States alone, there are roughly 122,000 children awaiting adoption according to the latest report from the U.S Department of Health and Human Services. While the goal is always for a child to be parented by and stay with their biological family, that is not always a possibility. This is where adoption offers hope—not only does it create new families, it gives birth parents an avenue through which to see their child flourish when they are not able to parent. For the right families, it's a beautiful thing.

The Archbolds knew early on that adoption was an option for them. David has three daughters from a previous marriage, but knowing their family was not yet complete, the couple embarked on a two-year journey to find their match. When the adoption agency called and told them about James, they were elated. From the moment they met him, the Archbolds knew he was meant to be part of their family. David locked eyes with the brown-eyed baby and they stared at each other in quiet wonder for such a long time that the whole room fell silent. "He still looks at me like that," said David.

The connection was mutual and instantaneous—love at first sight. The Archbolds knew that James was meant to be a part of their family. However, they faced significant challenges requiring an even deeper level of commitment due to James' medical condition.

James was born with congenital hyperinsulinism, a rare condition that causes his body to overproduce insulin, and within 2 months of his birth, he had to have surgery to remove 90% of his pancreas. There was a steep learning curve for the Archbolds, but they were already in love, and knew they were committed to the ongoing care that'd be required of bringing James into their lives. After lots of research and encouragement from James' medical team, they finally brought their son home.

Today, three-year-old James is thriving, filled with infectious joy that bubbles over and touches every person who comes in contact with him. "Part of love is when people recognize that they need to be with each other," said his adoptive grandfather. And because the Archbolds opted for an open adoption, there are even more people to love and support James as he grows.

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It's amazing to consider just how quickly the world has changed over the past 11 months. If you were to have told someone in February 2020 that the entire country would be on some form of lockdown, nearly everyone would be wearing a mask, and half a million people were going to die due to a virus, no one would have believed you.

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PPE masks were the last thing on Leah Holland of Georgetown, Kentucky's mind on March 4, 2020, when she got a tattoo inspired by the words of a close friend.

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Julia Tinetti, 31, and Cassandra Madison, 32, first met in 2013 while working at The Russian Lady, a bar in New Haven, Connecticut, and the two immediately hit it off.

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