Meaningful Messages: 6 Tips for Telling People in Your Life About Your Disability or Chronic Illness
Updated: May 2
Use these guidelines to help you navigate this important conversation with your loved ones
***Disclaimer: This blog is for informational purposes only and does not provide medical, legal, or health advice and is not a substitute for mental health services
Being diagnosed with a disability can raise a lot of questions in your mind, including who you should tell and how. It is already a confusing time. Here are some ideas that may help you at least figure out who may be helpful to inform about your disability or chronic illness so they understand what you need and how they can support you.
1. Tell people who you trust and believe will be supportive
You don’t have to tell everyone in your life about this very private and sensitive aspect of your life. Pick and choose wisely. The family and friends in your closest circle may be a good starting place to consider who in that group may “need-to-know” if you feel it is important for them to be aware.
Of course, if you are working or in school, you may need to inform your employer’s Occupational Health department or your school’s accessibility coordinator, particularly if you need special accommodations or modified duties in order to do your job or schoolwork effectively.
2. Decide how much detail you want to share with them
Once you’ve figured out who fits in the “need-to-know” category, you can still decide how much information is relevant for them to know. It may not be necessary to share all of the minute details but perhaps a general statement or description of the situation and your needs is more than enough. The in-depth details could be saved for your partner, parents, siblings, and anyone else you feel is within that very small valued circle.
3. Ask them to use discretion and respect your privacy
As with any delicate information, it may make sense for you to ask the people you’ve told to keep it private out of consideration for your privacy.
4. Educate them about your needs
Naturally, when you share information about your disability, questions may come up about what this means for you in your daily life - at home, at work, and in your social and personal life. Consider what questions you are comfortable answering and what you are interested in sharing so others don’t make assumptions but rather have accurate information about how your disability impacts you.
5. Figure out who you can go to for what type of need
Different people in your life may have skills in certain areas.
Does your family member love to cook and do you find that task very difficult in your circumstances? Maybe you can ask your loved one to help you with your grocery shopping and meal prep.
Do you need help with getting to and from medical appointments? Perhaps you can ask a family member or friend who has a vehicle that lives in your region to assist sometimes, particularly if you live in an area with limited access to public transit (including accessible transit, if that is required).
Do you need help with mowing the lawn, shoveling snow, removing weeds, etc.? Is there a neighbour you can pay to take care of these outdoor tasks? Or, is there an advertisement you can post online or elsewhere to see if you can hire help to address these tasks?
Break down the range of areas you feel you need support with and ask your loved ones, friends, and acquaintances if they would be willing and able to help you with these tasks or explore hiring fee-for-service if necessary.
6. Maintain your independence
When you tell a loved one you have a disability, they might be keen to offer help in a wide range of areas. Staying independent in as many aspects of life as possible may be important to you for your sense of self and confidence.
Inform your loved ones that you will rely on them for essential needs but that you will try to handle things you are able to manage on your own and that you will ask them for support when you need it.
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