General Question

wundayatta's avatar

How would you react if a friend, family member or coworker told you they had a hidden disability?

Asked by wundayatta (58693points) May 11th, 2009

A lot of folks with disabilities are reluctant to tell others about the disability. They are afraid they might get told the disability is imagined, or that people will judge them as less than other people because of it.

Would you want to know? Do you think they should tell you? Should they keep it hidden? Does it make a difference if it’s a family member, a friend, or a coworker? What’s the difference? Who do you think they should tell or not tell? Why?

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22 Answers

knitfroggy's avatar

If it were a family member or friend I would want to know. A coworker, probably not. It’s none of my business, especially if it doesn’t really affect my working environment. I do think they should let the company know tho.

Darwin's avatar

If telling me would allow me to make their lives easier, sure. That would most likely include family members and close friends but possibly not co-workers, unless it would affect their ability to get the job done.

After all, if someone happens to be an epileptic it would be nice for those around them to know not to turn on a strobe light, or what to do if they should have a seizure. However, if the person has been able to compensate for their disability, then there might be no reason to share.

In point of fact, all of us have some sort of disability, but some are small, or can be easily dealt with, and others are really common. I wear glasses because the shape of my eyeball is wrong. If you want to give me a job reading fine print I would be a fool not to ask for a magnifying glass.

Jeruba's avatar

If someone told me he or she had a disability of any kind, I would respond with sympathetic concern and probably ask some questions about it, assuming that that would be okay since they brought it up. I would probably feel that they were expressing their trust in me to tell me about it.

Unless it’s a member of my immediate family, husband or child or parent or sibling, I don’t think they have any obligation to tell me. That’s up to them. I would want to be able to make special allowances as needed, taking my cue from them, but I would not feel that they owed it to me.

I never told any member of my husband’s family about mine because I knew exactly how they would react. It would be a big huge calling-attention fuss at every possible occasion, as if they were just going to worlds of trouble to be considerate and accommodating, no matter how many times I told them that everything was fine and nothing special was needed and I would take care of it. I know this because I did tell them about one thing years ago, and found it was mentioned as often as possible with respect to just about everything we ever did together. Later when the second and more serious condition arose, I swore they were never to know.

As for friends and coworkers, that would depend on their level of comfort and our degree of closeness. I will keep anyone’s secret about anything,* but some people dread being talked about or questioned or treated differently, and so they say nothing. Again, that’s up to them, and I would utterly respect their decision.
*Except where someone is being harmed.

3or4monsters's avatar

If they are able to keep it a secret unless they explicitly tell me (versus figuring it out for myself), then I don’t consider it a big enough factor for me to change my opinion. Knowing it won’t make a difference because I realize immediately that they were the same person they were 10 minutes or 10 years before they spoke it aloud.

YARNLADY's avatar

Co-worker, probably not important, family member, really surprised, since I believe I am very close to any member who might share this with me, and I would expect to already know.

asmonet's avatar

Shrug, move on.
I wouldn’t ask though, it really is none of my business or concern.

hug_of_war's avatar

I have a hidden disability. While my family knows and those who need to. It’s not like I’m ashamed of anything, but I’m a private person and that’s a private thing to me

cookieman's avatar

I agree with @Darwin. If it makes it easier on them – I’m all ears.

Otherwise, none of my bees-wax.

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

I accept my friends, warts and all. I have a gay friend who is HIV positive, and I do not treat him any different now than I did before I knew. I believe in having compassion for those people I am close to, or even just co-workers. To be any other way is disingenuous.

Some of the finest people I have ever met in this life were disabled, i.e. with Down Syndrome. People are people, and to treat the disabled as different isn’t fair to them or to me.

DarkScribe's avatar

I would ask whether it was associated with excessive wealth and offer my assistance in remedy the matter. ;)

Many people have hidden disabilities, I do myself. I have had cancer for some years, and shortly after I was diagnosed, had a severe traffic accident, went under a truck on my motorcycle. They didn’t think that I would walk again, sixty odd fractures – they were considering amputation, but they re-built me – lots of bone and skin grafts. No one but those very close to me knew. I couldn’t breath unaided for some time and spent many months in a wheelchair, then on crutches. I still have trouble doing many things that I used to take for granted, but am very nearly recovered. During this whole time (six years) very few people knew. I kept working – telecommuting. While this was happening I met many people in the oncology outpatients clinic who had major “disabling” type problems and they didn’t broadcast it.

Hey, I got a disabled parking permit! Didn’t ask for it and seldom use it – not at all lately. Silver cloud. :)

(and I get to set the Airport security alarms off every time I fly.)

asmonet's avatar

insert six million dollar man joke.

augustlan's avatar

If it was a close friend or family member, I’d certainly hope they would let me know. I would express sympathy, and if it was something I’m unfamiliar with I’m sure I’d have questions, too. I would offer my assistance and then we would move on to other subjects and proceed as usual. It would not affect my feelings towards the individual at all.

I don’t think co-workers need to be informed, but a supervisor probably should be.

As far as whether or not they should tell (anyone at all)... I think it comes down to harm. If it is harmful to the disabled individual to keep it a secret, then tell, tell, tell! Let the chips fall where they may. If it’s not a big deal to the disabled individual, is it harmful for loved ones not to know? If it is, would it be harmful to the disabled to tell them?

nikipedia's avatar

I definitely understand why people want to keep things quiet, but in most situations I’d like to know. It helps me be considerate of their needs/feelings. Plus I’d be kind of flattered if a coworker or similar trusted me enough to share something really personal like that.

hungryhungryhortence's avatar

I don’t expect my family or friends to tell me anything about themselves they aren’t comfortable with. I have counseled others to choose carefully when disclosing very personal things though, I prefer to turn to friends than family because friends are the family you choose.

RedPowerLady's avatar

I would want to know. But I wouldn’t need to know. I am okay not-knowing. But my personal belief system thinks that have things in the open is much easier and condusive to caring relationships.

Also a lot of times I think we know that something is not right or not okay and when we finally discover what “it” is then everything makes a little better sense. I’ve been in all types of situations. Situations where people didn’t tell for awhile but then did tell, situations where people still haven’t said anything and i know something isn’t right, and situation where i have known all along.

I don’t mind who it is that is telling me. But then again I have a background in psychology and the counseling/social work profession. I think giving a response is much easier when it is someone you love and care about.

Personally I have been in a situation where we ended up telling all our family and friends what was going on. We just didn’t want their being gossip about what was going on or people not knowing and then having to tell them all later, etc… We just imagined too many possibilities of bad circumstances. It was so wonderful to talk with others and we got amazing support. But when it comes to telling strangers or coworkers etc.. I think that all depends on how you feel personally, in many circumstances like this I think it may make someone too vulnerable to just tell before you knowing whether this is a “safe” person or not.

Okay that was kinda all over the place there. But In Short I am a fan of being open to your support system and cautious with others.

reverie's avatar

I think it’s totally up to the person to disclose whatever they like about themselves. I don’t think there’s necessarily a special rule for disclosing information about disabilities, and whilst they can certainly have a tremendous impact on a life, the bigger a deal we make out of any condition, the more of a barrier we put between “typically developed” and “disabled”. Like @Darwin said, I think people should disclose about their disability if it makes them feel more comfortable to do so.

My best friend is profoundly deaf, but it’s “hidden” in the sense that she has no associated speech impairment, doesn’t wear hearing aids and is an outstanding lip-reader. She tells people as and when she feels like it, and is absolutely comfortable with anyone and everyone knowing. She doesn’t like to make a big deal about her deafness, and doesn’t consider herself disabled, but she will tell people in situations where her deafness is relevant (e.g. if you call her name when she’s facing away from you, she won’t know, or if you cover your mouth with hands or a mug when you are talking, she can’t lipread).

As an aside, my personal view is that I would encourage people to talk about any disabilities or illnesses. I strongly believe that if people really start talking, it will go a long way to help remove the stigma that surrounds some conditions. People shouldn’t feel that they have to hide any mental or physical differences they have, under any circumstances. Obviously, the onus isn’t on the disabled person to change an unhelpful reaction from society, but I think improved communication on both sides can really help. If something remains hidden and taboo, it’s hard to start up conversation, and thus remove ignorance and prejudice about it.

dynamicduo's avatar

I wouldn’t really react much at all. I would be sympathetic if that’s what they wanted. We could discuss it, again if that’s what they wanted. To me, it doesn’t matter one bit. I don’t care whether I know or not. I certainly don’t believe they are obliged to tell me at all.

wundayatta's avatar

The reason why I ask this is that I was working with a team of researchers who were looking at it from the other side. They were analyzing a bunch of interviews conducted with people with disabilities. The interview asked them about when and why and how and who they chose to disclose their disability to. I became curious about the other side—and whether it is a burden, and if so, what kind.

The issue of stigma is also of interest to me because there is only one set of people in my real life that knows what I’ve been going through lately, and that is my artistic friends. My extended family, my employer and coworkers, my college friends, and any other set of friends—none of them know. This is mostly because, except for my family, I have no idea how they will react, and I’m not sure I want to find out. Also, since I’m better now, it seems like it would be some kind of appeal for sympathy or support that I no longer need. Maybe it isn’t relevant any more, except as a story about something I went through and learned from.

ABoyNamedBoobs03's avatar

I dated a girl for a month before I realized she had a prostetic leg from the knee cap down… no idea how I didn’t catch that one sooner. wasn’t a problem really, I suggested she get a peg, she didn’t. I cried.

casheroo's avatar

When I was having my issues with anxiety, I always disclosed it to my employer. I had to, or else I’d probably lose my job. I would have panic attacks in the parking lot, and they knew this. They knew it was a battle for me to walk into the door. They gave me more leeway, I suppose, but I know they would not tell any other employees…they left that up to me.
I personal believe it’s best to inform the employer and if you work in close contact with people, they should probably know just so they know how to react or care for the person.
Maybe because mine was a mental illness and not physical (but it turned into a physical disability from the reactions my body had) I had no issue with telling people. I’ve never been ashamed or embarrassed to ask for help.

cyndyh's avatar

If my knowing can make things a little better for that person then tell me. It’s not a burden when I already have a relationship with that person.

I don’t want to know about the libido issues that creepy guy in accounting has since the banks went south. There is no way that my knowing about that would make things better for him or for me. :^>

Kenyan's avatar

do what ever i can to help them

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