“You don’t look disabled.”

26th May 2016

You don't look disabled.

There’s one comment I have received a lot over the years that really makes my blood boil:

“You don’t look disabled.”

What do you expect my response to be?

“LOL, just kidding.”

Why no earth would I lie about being disabled? Why don’t people believe me when I say I’m disabled?

Because I don’t use a wheelchair?

Because I don’t use crutches?

Another reason?

You don’t need to be in a wheelchair or use a walking aid to be disabled.

I have a physical disability and the only obvious thing that suggests I might be disabled is my limp. But if I’m standing or sitting rather than walking then that might not be obvious either. So when I say I have a disability then you just have to trust me.

And let’s be honest, why the hell would I lie?

If you are ignorant enough to make a comment like “you don’t look disabled” then be prepared for me to tell you all about my condition and how it affects me on a daily basis. And to go on and on and on. Because the only way to deal with uneducated people is to educated them yourself.

The problem is, it doesn’t get any better if you do use a walking aid or a wheelchair.

After the operation I had when I was 10 I used a wheelchair for a short period of time because I was still recovering from not using my legs for 6 weeks.

I received stupid questions like:

“Can I have a go in your wheelchair?”

“Yeah, sure. Not like I need it or anything.”

And I also remember when I had to use crutches when I went to Venice (see top photo – attempting to hide the crutch from photos) and a guy thought he was being hilarious by pointing at my crutches and then to Tyrone and saying:

“What did he do to you?”

I had to resist the urge to smack him in the face with my crutch.

To top it off, I was recently diagnosed with adjustment disorder with anxiety and depression after a consultation with a psychiatrist. So I should probably prepare for the usual uneducated comments regarding mental health like “You don’t look depressed.” and “Everyone has bad days.”, am I right?


I just want to remind people to think before they make silly comments about someone’s disability or medical condition. If someone says they have a disability they’re probably telling the truth because it’s not something to joke about. Just because you can’t see someone’s disability or illness doesn’t mean it’s not there.

If you like to know more about my hip condition then do check out the posts I have wrote about it here.

I will probably write about my mental health diagnosis in the near future. It’s still all new to me.

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  1. When I had serious depression I considered myself mentally disabled, but still hovered my mouse over ‘yes’ and ‘no’ on university surveys. When I chose ‘yes’ they asked me to fill in a form for special consideration, in which no questions considered mental disability.

    I follow an Australian woman’s blog, Carly Findlay, and she has Ichthyosis. She writes a lot about her skin condition and how she is treated by other people. Someone refused to move over to offer her a seat because she didn’t ‘look pregnant or disabled’.

    It’s not always obvious to the naked eye that someone is disabled. But if someone reveals that they are, why the heck do people think it’s OK to question? It’s a very personal thing, not to be joked about, and sometimes people should limit their questioning in case the person is not OK with revealing more about their condition. I feel like the comment about Tyrone was very insensitive. It’s not freaking funny. At all. It’s sexist. And wrong. And even if you weren’t in your current situation, it’s just a completely rude statement to make!

    I think because depression is so common and misunderstood, anyone can think that they have depression because they think it’s just being sad and down in the dumps all day. The stigma around it even made me think I was ‘just having bad days’ myself. When I was indeed very wrong and it was actually serious. 🙁

    • Holly

      I definitely consider depression to be a disability. I’m fortunate, somewhat, that my depression is only moderate, but I know how disabling it can be. It stops you from functioning and living life normally, and therefore should be considered a disability.

      Now I think about it, that comment was definitely sexist. What hurts the most is if it weren’t for Tyrone’s care and support I would be in a lot worse situation right now and I definitely wouldn’t have been able to do that Venice trip without him.

  2. Liz

    I get a lot of beef regarding my autism because I don’t “look” autistic, and my family has decided they don’t “get” autism…ugh. Because the stereotypical version of Tourette Syndrome is what most people know it by, my anger issues and various tics caused by it are seen as “not Tourette’s”, and instead something I “should” be able to control….

    It’s all ridiculous, and you’re right when you say the only way to educate the uneducated about this stuff is to educate them yourself; more often than not, though, they don’t listen…or they think they’re being hilarious.

    So many ughs.

    • Holly

      I can’t imagine what it must be like for you with your family not “getting” autism. I don’t know a lot about autism but I know it can vary significantly between people, so it must be quite difficult.

  3. I’m sorry to hear you’ve had these experiences with people. I’m godsmacked at what was said to you in Venice – how can people think that is an appropriate or acceptable thing to say? I find people often say “Oh you don’t look like a deaf person” as if it’s a compliment, or all deaf people have some overwhelming physical feature that makes it obvious they’re deaf.
    I hope these encounters come to a grinding halt.

    • Holly

      What does a deaf person look like?! What a crazy/stupid comment. I wonder if people ever tell me I don’t look disabled as a compliment, but even then it’s still stupid!

      Unfortunately, I witnessed someone making comments about someone sitting in a disabled seat today on a train. Luckily it wasn’t me but I still had to resist speaking up and educating the idiot in this situation.

  4. I so understand what you mean. People have this tendency to give you the “look” if you mention something they haven’t been expecting and then make some stupid comment to brush off the uneasiness they feel!

    Depression! If I say I am depressed and if i am trying to not show that I am, people will keep telling how I don’t look depressed at all… so it’s a good thing, right? That I don’t look depressed, then why do want to make me feel depressed? People just need to be more senstive or at least think twice before they open their mouths!

    • Holly

      Oh I know what you mean about “the look”. I still get that look every time I tell someone I’m a web developer, as if you say “but you’re a woman”.

      I guess there’s just a lot of judgemental people out there.

  5. Carolynne

    I seriously can’t believe people can be so stupid. WHY would anyone say things like that?! It is so disgusting, rude and frustrating. It’s no one’s business. GRRR. I’m glad that you handle it so well. I admire that. I also like that you are open and honest about your disabilities. There is nothing to be ashamed of and people need to understand that.

    • Holly

      It certainly shouldn’t be anyone else’s business. A couple of weeks ago this happened to me on a train when I asked a guy who had an empty seat next to him if I could sit that spare seat. He moaned so I said I was disabled and he made a stupid comment. I hate having to say “I’m disabled” but no way was I standing for an hour on a train, not when there was a spare seat.

  6. Yes, your case is quite common. Being in a military community, there are quite a few disabled veterans or non-veterans, and yet they don’t look disabled. But still so many people believe disability means you’re missing a limb or you’re paraplegic or something along those lines. They don’t realise that there are many “hidden” disabilities such as fibromyalgia. In fact, I only recently found out that the US lists diabetes as a disability!

    It is frustrating to hear such comments and to see people not believing you have a disability. The most we can do is to continue to educate people about disability and know that it’s not something people would lie about!

    • Holly

      I’m not sure if diabetes is listed as a disability in the UK, but if not it should be. My condition isn’t classed as a disability as if it is handled correctly it shouldn’t cause problems in later life. Unfortunately as I was diagnosed late it was become a major problem that has affected my entire life and therefore I consider it a disability.

  7. You know I get this *all* the time. I had some operations in my back three years ago and I’m left with chronic pain and numb legs, I hide it well, you’d never guess I was in pain all the time and people think there’s nothing wrong with me, but I’ve adapted my whole life to fit around my condition and people are always surprised when I say I have to lie down because the feeling has gone in my legs or whatever. There’s no answer, it’s just annoying. Great blog post 🙂

    • Holly

      I know what you mean. I’ve had to adapt my whole life around my disability too. Most of the time I get on with my disability because I don’t want to impact on my life, but sometimes, like when I need a seat on a train, I have to talk about it but it can be very difficult when there are so many people who just don’t understand.

  8. Someone tried to turf me off a priority seat on the bus the other day. I had to get my medication and patient tag out for them to believe I was ill. ‘Oh you’re too young to be sat in this seat love’ followed by ‘you don’t look ill’. I’d been in hospital for meds the day beforehand and felt grim, I wasn’t moving for anyone. So I feel you here, I really do x

    • Holly

      That’s terrible! I always get funny looks off people when I sit in the priority seat, but then I think a lot of people sit in them without even thinking that someone else might need them.

      “You’re too young” is such a stupid, uneducated comment to make. I can’t believe someone would say that.

  9. Oh my goodness, people can be so so rude and I would be so tempted to whack them with the crutch. But I guess that’s not allowed huh? 🙂

  10. It’s appalling, they make fun without realizing how much their words might hurt.
    When I had a treatment for back pains, an old lady told I was young and when she was young she didn’t go to hospitals, like I was making it up or something. It’s annoying to see this happens quite often.

    • Holly

      I find comment like “you’re too young” so stupid. How uneducated can someone be! But I find that to be the case a lot with older people. Some think that they’re the only ones to have health problems.

  11. I understand this feeling. I have a communication disorder. I don’t usually get inappropriate comments, but there have been times where a person is startled by my struggling to speak, and they ask me if I’m OK, thinking that I’m having a seizure or something. Its not really a big deal, but it does bother me and I do feel as if I’m not human.

    • Holly

      That be so tough, and get really frustrating. I hate it when people ask “What’s wrong with you/your legs?” as I find this to be really insensitive.

  12. […] I’d like to start this post by saying a massive thank you to everyone who read, shared and left comments on the two posts I published this week, especially Thursday’s post called “You don’t look disabled“. […]

  13. While I’ve never dealt with the physical side of this, I have with the mental. I’m manic depressive bipolar, and when I mention it everyone’s first response is, “What? You don’t act bipolar.” Like, of course not? I’m on medicine? And even if I wasn’t most people’s idea of what bipolar people act like is completely and totally false in every way!

    • Holly

      Mental illnesses are so poorly understood and I really think their needs to be better education about it. Too many people assume that they know how someone else who is ill or has a disability feels but they haven’t got a clue!

  14. Chynna

    I hate that when people think of disability, they think that disabled people have an outward appearance showing they’re disabled. So uneducated and ignorant. That guy that said that comment to you and your boyfriend about your crutches was NOT funny, at all. I would have definitely smacked him in the face.

    • Holly

      Oh I wish I could have hit him, or at least said something witty. I’m so slow with come backs!

  15. Nicky

    It is just crazy that in this day & age some people are so socially inept that they think it is ok to comment on personal issues as complete utter & total strangers. How you restrained yourself from whacking him with your crutch is beyond me.

    • Holly

      I think I’m always so shocked when people say something about my disability that I’m too slow to react. I wish I had better come backs!

  16. People are so quick to judge or to think bad of others. So small minded they don’t understand you don’t have to be in a wheelchair. What exactly is disabled supposed to look like anyway? You are right to keep educating, it’s the only way changes can be made
    Great post, giving an insight into the issues that affect you.