Living Well When You’re Unwell

7 May 2019

Welcome to Living Well When You’re Unwell, a column that answers all your questions about navigating uni, life, relationships, and jobs with disability and chronic illness.

How can you tell if someone has a disability?


Over 90 percent of disabilities are invisible, meaning you cannot tell someone has a disability just by looking at them. So, in most cases you cannot tell if someone is living with disability. You might be able to tell if someone has a disability if:

  1. They have a visible disability or
  2. If they tell you

Disabilities come in all shapes and sizes and affect people differently. Practicing empathy and not making assumptions is key to ensuring people of all abilities are treated with respect.

I am in my 20s but I have a disability parking permit. How do I deal with people giving me looks or saying mean things because I don’t look disabled?

-Tired of the Looks

Unfortunately, it’s quite common for young people with disabilities to be shamed for parking in disabled spots. I’ve heard horror stories that range from harassment to nasty letters being left on windscreens and even to individuals getting fined for using their own disability parking permits because they don’t “look like they need it”.

There’s no quick fix to solving this problem, but if you’re comfortable with it, you can use these situations as a teaching moment. If someone speaks unkindly to you, you can remind them most disabilities aren’t visible and that disability isn’t discriminatory towards age.

Although stigma is lessening, there will always be situations like this when people do not understand. Just remember you’re doing nothing wrong by taking care of yourself.

What resources are out there for young people living with disability in Melbourne?

-Unsure of Where to Start

There are heaps of resources for young people with disability in Melbourne and Victoria. Some of the best resources around include:

  • Youth Disability Advocacy Services
  • Disability Resources Centre
  • Student Equity and Disability Support at University of Melbourne
  • UMSU Disabilities Department
  • Vision Australia (for those who are blind or have low vision)
  • Expression Australia (for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing)

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it’s a good place to start. Some of these organisations are great for advocacy, some are great to learn about your rights, and some are great for building connections.

I am afraid to tell people that I have a disability. Do you have any tips or advice?

-Scared of Stigma

I do. Here are some things to remember when you’re coming to terms with your own limitations and abilities:

  • You are deserving of having your access needs met.
  • You aren’t burdening others by asking to make things accessible.
  • You are deserving of respect and kindness.
  • Although you deserve respect, kindness, and accessibility, sometimes you will be faced with just the opposite. This isn’t a reflection of you, but of the other person’s ignorance.
  • If you’re faced with ableism, try not to let it wear you down.
  • Even when it seems too difficult, don’t stop advocating for yourself.

Even though there are laws in place and advocates all over the world, people with disabilities still do undergo unfair treatments and perception. This world was made for able-bodied people, so don’t get discouraged by all the barriers you may face. Navigating the world with a disability is challenging, but it’s also brave.

Have a question on the general topic of disability and chronic illness? Send an email to to get your question answered. You don’t have to be living with a disability to send a question – any questions you might have about disability and health are welcome.

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