Living Well When You’re Unwell

11 August 2019

Content Warning: chronic illness

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.

I saw a service animal owner who didn’t look like she was blind. Are there other reasons to have a service dog?
– Wondering about Doggos

There are heaps of reasons someone might have a service animal. The most commonly known reason is because someone may be blind, but here are some other disabilities and health issues that service dogs can help with:

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or anxiety
  • Epilepsy or migraine
  • Cancer
  • Autism
  • Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
  • Bone/skeletal disabilities (e.g. scoliosis)
  • Mobility issues (e.g. paralysis)
  • Diabetes

Are you wondering how these doggos can help? They can provide a whole range of services, including:

  • Alerting their owner (e.g. alerting their human when an epileptic episode is about to happen)
  • Helping during emergencies (barking to signal for help)
  • Bringing items to their owner (e.g. medicine or a phone to call emergency services)

There are tons of other ways these pups can help, but this brief list is just to help you get thinking about some of the reasons why someone might choose to have a service dog.

I read this column and it got me thinking more about invisible disabilities. I always thought people who didn’t have a disability shouldn’t be sitting in priority seats in trams
and trains because they didn’t need a seat, but now I’m wondering how often these people have hidden disabilities. Can you shed some lights?
– Anonymous

Since 1 in 5 Australians has a disability and over 90% of disabilities are invisible, it is likely that some of the people sitting in priority seats who don’t ‘look’ disabled are actually living with a disability. Of course, some people sitting down may be able-bodied and may not actually need the seat—you will never know just by looking at someone.

Usually, unless you or someone you’re with has a disability and need to take a seat, it’s not polite to ask and make someone prove they have a disability. However, if you are a person living with a disability who really needs a seat, and you’re wondering if the person sitting in the priority seat needs to sit down, you can politely ask, “Excuse me, can I sit here?” You can customise that question as you see fit (e.g. letting them know why you need the seat if you feel it’s necessary to explain and you feel comfortable doing so). If they say no, they probably need it, too.

I run events at uni and I’m wondering how I can make them more accessible?
– Supporting Students

There are great resources online for accessible event planning. I’d highly recommend giving it a quick search, but these are some things to look out for:

  • Is there adequate seating?
  • Is the building/venue accessible for wheelchair users and individuals who use mobility devices?
  • Have you considered the impact on senses (e.g. fragrances, airborne allergies, lighting, extreme temperatures)? It’s good to consider all five senses and how they could potentially be impacted by the environment.
  • Have you considered allergies?
  • Have you considered if you may need an interpreter, captions on videos, or any audiovisual equipment?

This is a really brief checklist, but if you’re keen to get familiarised so you can be as inclusive as possible, there’s a great list on and you can find other ideas with a quick Google search.

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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