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When Invisible Disabilities Reveal Themselves

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By Lisa Guthrie Deabill

A young driver pulls into a handicapped parking spot, gets out and walks into the grocery store. Why did they park there? That spot is reserved for people who use a wheelchair. What you may not realize is that that person may suffer from what is called an invisible disability.

According to the Invisible Disabilities Association, an invisible disability “is a physical, mental or neurological condition that is not visible from the outside, yet can limit or challenge a person’s movements, senses, or activities.” That can include people who suffer from chronic pain from multiple sclerosis or fibromyalgia, extreme fatigue, hearing impairment or a learning disability.

Invisible disabilities shouldn’t prevent people from seeing the world. There are numerous resources available to make your vacation as smooth and relaxing as possible, from the planning stages all the way to your trip home.

Airports and airlines around the world are making great strides in addressing invisible disabilities. Virgin Atlantic offers priority check in and pre-boarding. The airline has also created a hidden disabilities symbol which can be downloaded onto your phone or printed. That lets workers know you need help or reassurance. Just contact the special assistance team before you travel.

Another discreet resource for those with traveling with invisible disabilities is The Sunflower Lanyard Program. Anyone who feels they have a hidden disability can request one for free at participating airports and venues. The sunflower lanyard has become a globally recognized symbol indicating that you or someone traveling with you has an invisible disability and may need additional assistance. The program began in the United Kingdom and is spreading throughout the world. Airports including London Heathrow, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Washington, Tampa International Airport in Florida are just a few of the airports that have adopted the lanyard.

People with hidden disabilities say it is important to plan ahead and consider your needs. For instance, people with Crohn’s disease will want to know where the closest restrooms are while sightseeing. An app called “We Can’t Wait” allows users to easily locate public restrooms and identify places that are sympathetic to a person’s needs. Also, do your research. Make sure hotels offer rooms and services that address your disability. In the United States, look for hotels that are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA.) Call hotels directly if the information is not readily available.

And finally, don’t be afraid to tell people, such as tour guides or flight attendants, about your disability and ask for help.

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