Image of a soup can that says Invisible Disabilites #NotABrand by Gina di Grazia

I Have an Invisible Disability. So Sue Me.

Thanks to a mistake by the United States Patent Trademark Office, the Invisible Disabilities Association can quite literally sue me for identifying as having an invisible disability.

The Invisible Disabilities Association has successfully Trademarked the term “Invisible Disabilities”. Let that sink in. Identities cannot be trademarked… it would be akin to trademarking Breast Cancer, or Blue Eyes or Black Male or Lesbian. These trademarks could, in theory, prevent people from owning their identities.

Trademark Registration #4315808

But alas, this is no longer theoretical. This week, the IDA successfully had another group (a vibrant and empowered group) pulled from Facebook for using the term ‘Invisible Disabilities’. As that group wishes to remain anonymous, I won’t divulge. But I will say this, Facebook stepped up last night and restored the account. Thank you Facebook!

But it doesn’t change the reality. The Invisible Disabilities Association still owns the trademark for ‘Invisible Disabilities’ and they have not backed away from their threats. Think about it, the Invisible Disabilities Association is silencing those they aim to support… people who identify as struggling invisibly. This can’t go on.

Will you take action? Here are a few steps you can take.

  1. Will you sign and share this petition?
  2. Will you like and share this post?
  3. If you are personally affected, will you leave a review on Great Nonprofits?
  4. And lastly, if you know of a pro-bono Trademark Attorney will you reach out? This trademark must be revoked.

Three things need to happen in order for this situation to resolve. The first thing happened last night. Facebook restored the Invisible Disabilities account that had been pulled.

Second, we need this trademark revoked. That’s what we’re working on now.

But most importantly, moving forward, we all must acknowledge that the Invisible Disabilities Association may have the name, but they do not represent us. The founder of the IDA is a man who claims to have married his wife ‘in spite’ of her disability. This is not appropriate. Our identity is not charity.

The IDA claims to have created the term ‘Invisible Disabilities’, but it actually has a long history dating back to the early 20th century and is cited throughout the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Image courtesy of Invisible Disabilities Project

Furthermore, as someone with both visible and invisible disabilities, I have reached out to IDA on a few occasions over the years and have never received a response. This organization claims to represent us, yet seems to only respond to media inquiries. The IDA has yet to respond to any of the invisible disability community’s concerns. All we have received are a few cryptic messages from their crisis manager:

“@Criptiques @zagbah @MischiefTreweekmy u atak Bd mbrs as “abled” bc their bios dont incl privt info? u dont know how ID afects them prsnly”

and

“@zagbah @Criptizues @MischiefTreweek You have no idea what you are talking about. You don’t know these people personally.”

Seems they don’t know us either.

Check out Kirsten Schultz’ detailed analysis of this entire situation… it’s goooood.

Update: In an interview with Bloomberg BNA, Hileman patronizingly said:

“We recognize the concern that the petition writers and a few others have expressed, but in our 20-year experience advocating for those with invisible disabilities, we have found that while people associate closely with the term, many do not see it as a singular expression of their identity — of who they are as individuals,”

Followed by this:

Asked if IDA would consider voluntarily abandoning its “invisible disabilities” trademark and seek trademark protection for “Invisible Disabilities Association” instead, Hileman responded that IDA stakeholders and Facebook followers have not expressed any concern about the mark.

Unfortunately Facebook comments require approval, so it has been difficult to express concern. Furthermore, most critics of IDA have been blocked:

We do not know who IDA’s stakeholders are at this time. Will update when we find out.

Update: Ever seen so many Trademark Registrations? Starting to notice a theme here. Props to Gina on this find.