The issue of self-disclosure

We talk a lot here in Disability Land about self-disclosure. That if, if one of us has a so-called invisible […]

Jane McClure headshot

We talk a lot here in Disability Land about self-disclosure. That if, if one of us has a so-called invisible disability, how is that best handled? Do we talk to family members, employers and others about the disability if nothing seems amiss? Do we make it public to all? Or do we keep quiet and hope for the best?

A couple of years ago I delivered the Silha lecture on journalism ethics at the University of Minnesota. The topic was news coverage about people with disabilities and how that should and should not be handled.

One of my comments was that self-disclosure is huge. I’ve made no secret of my years living with depression. I know that has been a factor in my not getting better jobs with better pay. I was told as much years ago by editors at both Twin Cities daily papers.

Also, being an adult on the autism spectrum can be an issue for some folks. Neither of these life factors prevent me from doing my job. But we know that too many people cannot equitably deal with disabilities. We’re left out a lot.

At the same time, we must all have respect for those who do not disclose disabilities. Invisible disabilities can work against people in all kinds of settings and if something isn’t obvious, there may be a decision to not disclose.

Self-disclosure is a choice. It’s also a choice that can have lifelong personal and professional consequences.

In talking to news media during the Silha lecture, my point was, when is disability relevant to a situation and in my world, a news story? With one in four of having a disability during our lifetimes, disability is more common than most of us think.

Self-disclosure becomes more of an issue with visible disabilities, of course. We cannot ignore a wheelchair or a white cane. How disabilities change is yet another factor.

I was thinking about that the other day when reading about Minneapolis City Council Member Andrea Jenkins. Jenkins is publicly speaking about her multiple sclerosis (MS), which was diagnosed in 2017. She revealed her condition to council colleagues and others in 2018.

MS and its effects can really vary from person to person, among my circle of friends. Jenkins has started to use an electric scooter, after using a cane for quite some time. In mid-October she sent an email to constituents explaining her condition.

In the email, Jenkins noted that electric scooter use is “to be able to conserve some of the energy that I expend doing the most basic human task of walking.” She emphasized that she is otherwise “very healthy” and that her cognitive abilities are still strong and capable.

Jenkins has been seen using a chair more during long press conferences, and receiving assistance from colleagues.

The Star Tribune published a brief story about Jenkins’ MS in mid-October, after the constituent email went out. Jenkins is in a very contested, four-way council race, and her disability could become a factor. That’s worth watching for a lot of reasons.

That’s all for now. In Thursday’s column we’ll talk about reaction to Jenkins’ news.

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