A blind man reads a book

Considering an Invisible Disability

Weld County, CO, December 22, 2021 – Not all disabling conditions are immediately apparent. There are many conditions that create uncomfortable situations for persons living with a disability simply because the individual is not using a chair for mobility, or is otherwise visibly disabled.

Kate Howell serves on the Connections Board of Directors. She lives with Celiac disease, an immune reaction created by digesting gluten. This protein is found within wheat, barley, and rye, and can create an immune reaction that includes diarrhea, bloating, gas, fatigue, and other painful and life-changing reactions.Kate Howell portrait

“I was diagnosed with Celiac disease in 2010, and I considered that a disability,” reports Howell. “I weighed approximately 100 pounds when I was diagnosed, which put me about 25 pounds underweight. The primary reason for this was I just didn’t want to eat for several reasons.”

Howell reports that Connections means much to her as an organization. “I was asked and accepted the invitation to become a Board member for Connections for Independent Living. Our organization is one that devotes itself to those members of our population who have been identified with a disability that affects their activities of daily living.”

Living with Celiac disease, Howell reported life became challenging. “I suffered from the digestive problems that are known with gluten intolerance. I would feel fine in the morning, but by early afternoon, I began suffering from cramping, bloating and painful gas. I tried everything I could to prevent it including just not eating, but it was very consistent. Sometimes, by the end of the day, I would have bouts of diarrhea and then the next morning, I would feel fine.”

“This situation would make me avoid any situations where I may not be able to control the gas and suffer the embarrassment. As a result, I would hide in my office. My position was not one where I spent a lot of time in my office, as I worked as a Social Worker in a nursing home, and my job was to interact with the residents 60 to 70 percent of the time. My other time was spent at the nursing stations gathering information for charting and care conferences. The nursing station consisted of small cubicles with many people around doing their work. The discomfort I was suffering daily also affected my mood and happiness both at work and at home.”

Howell reports she has been able to control her gluten intolerance “most of the time.” “There are times when I am hit with those same symptoms. This is because I ate something that contained gluten I didn’t know about, or just because of stress. This condition arises out of nowhere. I am often in situations that cause me great discomfort as I have no idea until I am hit with the discomfort of extreme gas, bloating and diarrhea.”

“I also live being careful and prepared as to what I will eat that day. Fast food and most restaurants are not an option for me. And when I attend events, I am very cautious about the food being offered. This often leads to not eating adequately, causing fatigue and other issues.”

From her experience, she recognizes when others face similar situations. Unfortunately, this experience can unintentionally be cruel, as others can make fun of the gas, leading to individual embarrassment. She once witnessed an individual teased by family members in such an occurrence. Howell reports, “As they were telling me about it, and her husband and children were having a good laugh, I thought, how is this any different than any other disability?”

Connections for Independent Living is a non-residential, participant-controlled nonprofit Independent Living Center that promotes independent living and the empowerment of all persons with disabilities. The organization is one of nine certified Independent Living Centers throughout Colorado and since 1986 has specifically served individuals in seven northeastern counties.

The Connections offices in Greeley
Connections team members can provide assistance and guidance for anyone who lives with a disabling condition.