Why disabled people shouldn’t have to out themselves

“Hide in your shell”

I am disabled. I have Aspergers and social anxiety, which is probably connected to having Aspergers. Fun fact: David Byrne of the Talking Heads said he likely had Aspergers! My disability is not one that you can immediately or obviously see.

One time at a convention I was volunteering for, I was interviewing someone and I didn’t maintain the best eye contact. I have eye contact problems with strangers, but I do just fine with friends or people I know and am comfortable with.

The person I was interviewing was very offended that I didn’t make eye contact and told me that I should out myself as disabled every time I interview someone. They didn’t even apologise to me. Obviously, not their words, but that’s what they were getting at.

When I told them that their suggestion was ridiculous because most of the time it doesn’t affect anyone, they told me that they are visibly disabled and it’s not difficult for them. I don’t think that invisible and visible disabilities can be equated and I think there needs to be better understanding and inclusion of disabled people.

Like a gay or a bisexual person staying in the closet for their safety, it’s often safer for a person with an invisible disability to stay in the closet. I don’t greet everyone like this “Hi, I’m Angie. I’m disabled”. That’s not how you introduce yourself to people. If I’m introducing myself, I’d probably talk about my hobbies, a movie or show I’ve been watching, or my education, depending on context.

Just because I don’t disclose my disability doesn’t mean I’m ashamed or I’m lying to you. I wish I could be cured and not have Aspergers anymore, but for the moment, there is no cure. The best I can do is learn how to function the best I can in this world.

The reason I don’t want to say anything is because people have preconceived notions about disabled people. Those prejudices can make people feel unsafe. People have assumed I’m stupid, I’m slow, I’m a robot, I can’t work, etc. I graduated secondary school at 16 by doubling up on classes, if my disability affected my intelligence levels, I couldn’t do that. I have anxiety and my mind works so fast that sometimes I get a bit lost when I speak. I don’t always outwardly show a lot of emotions, but that’s just how I express myself. I am a very hard worker and dedicated and everyone I know can attest to that.

Most of the time, disclosing a disability isn’t necessary or relevant, but there are times when you have to explain what accommodations you will need. It’s good to speak up for yourself and tell people what you need.

For example, if you have a peanut allergy, you might have to tell the airline not to serve peanuts on the flight. Or if you use a wheelchair, when making a reservation at a restaurant, you might have to ask if the restaurant is wheelchair accessible.

I need extra time on exams, a separate testing area, and I need to sit my exams on a computer rather than writing on a piece of paper. This is because I am sensitive to noise and light when I need to concentrate, I have test anxiety, and my handwriting is hard to read. I can’t concentrate if someone so much as opens a packet of crisps.

When I was a kid, my parents and the school handled everything, but from the age of 17 (when I started university), I had to speak up for myself.

I bring in my diagnosis to the designated staff at the disability office and they give me a note that I give to my teachers. Sometimes they even email a copy of the note to the teachers for me. I don’t have to explain what my disability is. I just give them the note and they should accommodate me.

I’ve had incidents where the teacher doesn’t respect my needs and that sucks. I’ve also had accommodations denied to me by the College Board (the company who administer the SATs) because of my being on the honour roll and being enrolled in mostly AP classes. That’s real ableism.

School is a place where my disability affects me and there is respect for my privacy. If I tell some person about my disability, they might out me as disabled and I don’t want that. I will tell people when I’m ready and when I feel it’s necessary. Nobody is entitled to information about my disability.

Respect the person’s wishes to remain private about their disability. They don’t owe you anything.