Meet the young South Asian woman breaking down stereotypes about invisible disability

ITV News Reporter Lucy Kapasi hears from people with invisible disabilities and how it has affected their lives

A woman who was unexpectedly diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis has spoken out on the judgement she has faced over being too young to be ill or disabled.

Sukhjeen Kaur from Kidderminster had to put her studies at Derby University on hold when she was unexpectedly diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at the age of 21.

She said that while her immediate family have been very supportive, the reaction from others in the South Asian community, particularly among the older generation, was hard to deal with.

'With the extended family, it was harder to get through to them that I was a young person living with arthritis...they weren't as quick to be supportive about it,' Sukhjeen says

This led her to start an instagram page called Chronically Brown talking about the struggles of chronic illness.

That snowballed as more and more people started to identify with the words 'Chronically brown'.

Many shared their struggles of explaining to others about their disability and the attitude from others in the South Asian community.

They often found their illness was shameful in some way so Sukhjeen started the #Desiabled campaign to get their voices heard.

'I am Desi-abled', people from the South Asian community with disabilities have supported Sukhjeen's campaign

Sukhjeen said while the project has helped many others, it has done her a whole world of good.

She said: "Even though I'm doing this work for other people, it's helped me a lot because I was so isolated and I was waiting for such a long time for my medication.

"This community was empowering, so lovely to have around, even though they're from all over the world actually."

One of the people who got in touch with her was newly-wed Kaveeta Shukla.

She has lung and heart conditions which make it difficult for her to walk very far without getting out of breath. Kaveeta said the attitudes that Sukhjeen faced instantly resonated with her.

Kaveeta Shukla on her wedding Credit: Kaveeta Shukla

Kaveeta said: "People would always ask me when are your friends getting married but never me and I would always question that but I'd also think, I kind of know why."

Sukhjeen now runs workshops, particularly with the older generation, to help break down stereotypes so people of all ages feel able to be open and understanding about disabled family members and friends.

Sukhjeen has just returned to Derby University to continue the psychology degree she had to pause due to her arthritis and Chronically Brown has been nominated for the Community Organisation Award for Race, Faith and Religion at the National Diversity Awards 2021.

What is an invisible disability? 

Some impairments and conditions are not immediately obvious. These are wide-ranging and include:

  • Autism

  • Chronic pain

  • Mental health conditions

  • Learning difficulties

  • Hearing impairments

  • Asthma

  • Diabetes

How can I help?

The disability equality charity Scope suggests:

  • Listen to disabled people

    If you're not sure, ask! Do not make assumptions or finish someone’s sentences for them!

  • Not all impairments and conditions are visible

    And some change. You may not be able to see them, but they’re still there.

  • Think about your language

    Don’t use ableist terms like ‘idiot’, and call these out when you hear them.

  • Champion accessibility and inclusion

    Especially at work. Ask what access needs someone might have, like receiving presentations before a meeting.

  • Educate yourself

    Read and learn about the advantages and benefits you experience as a non-disabled person and how to champion disabled people’s rights.

  • Speak out

    If you see or hear bullying or discrimination, speak up or report it.

  • Don’t push

    If someone says they can’t do something or aren’t feeling up to it, even if they look OK, don’t put them under pressure to change their mind.  

  • Never assume someone is exaggerating or ‘faking it’

    Just because you can’t see someone’s condition, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.

  • It’s OK to ask questions

    But remember to ask something you’d be happy to answer yourself! 

  • Everyone is different

    Not every disabled person will have the same views and preferences on these tips, and that's OK.