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  • Romney Miller

Social Situations and Disclosing a Disability

Have you ever experienced a new life event that made you feel nervous about disclosing your disability? New work friends? Recently moved to a new city, new school, new church?

When life changes and new people come into your life, a situation may arise where there is the need to talk about your disability. People with disabilities and their family members understand the anxiety that can surround new social interactions. For example, how do you tell new friends who invited you over to dinner that you have celiac disease and can’t eat wheat, in a manner that isn’t awkward for you or your new friends? Some people have no problem talking to others about their disability. However, for many, disclosing their disability to others in a social setting is the cause of tremendous anxiety. We have discovered that having a practiced pitch helps to alleviate peo- ple’s anxiety when they feel the need to disclose their disability to others.

In fact, just recently a good friend's daughter experienced anxiety around meeting new people when she began college. Gabby, now a freshman at college, was diagnosed when she was 16 with an autoimmune disease that causes muscle weakening. She used to be able to drive, but her disease has now made it so that she can’t. Even driving in a car with anyone other than her mother is difficult because any jerky movement causes dizziness and extreme neck pain. She also faints after standing too long, and has difficulty climbing stairs.

Gabby was beginning her second semester at college and felt that she needed to be more social in order to make friends. She decided to join a social club. The club was hosting an annual event where the students would take a bus to the venue. For liability reasons, riding on the bus was mandatory to attend the event. Gabby really wanted to attend, but there was no way she was going to be able to ride on a bumpy bus or even climb the stairs to get onto the bus. She was so upset that she thought about just not going or quitting the club altogether rather than talk to people about her disability. “It’s just so awkward trying to explain everything to new people!” She cried. I suggested to Gabby that she create a disclosure pitch that would serve her in many social situations. I said to her, “Have you ever heard of an elevator pitch? Well, you need something similar, but we can call it a disclosure pitch: a short and succinct way to disclose a disability to others in a social setting.” I explained that having a pitch would allow her to disclose her disability, discuss her needs and be able to attend the event. And the best part about having a practiced pitch ready to deliver is that it alleviates a lot of the anxiety that comes from being put into a group or meeting new people. Gabby agreed to give it a try. She wrote out what she wanted to say and practiced it in the mirror and to her mother. After a lot of practice, and with much anticipation, Gabby gathered her nerves and spoke with the person in charge of new club members and delivered her practiced pitch. In the end, she was able to attend the event with her mother driving her, and she was proud of herself that she was able to talk about her disability with a person she doesn’t know well. She has now used similar pitches in other social situations and has said that it gets easier every time she discloses. Now that she is armed with a practiced pitch, she has far less anxiety about disclosing.

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