What to know about IBS as a disability

Recently, a woman posted a video on TikTok showing that her IBS diagnosis allowed her to obtain a disability pass at a Disney World in Orlando, Fla. TikTok user @kaylaripp posted footage entering a ride and added that the disability pass helped her cut all the Disney lines. The video has been viewed over 900,000 times and the commenters had mixed opinions about the topic, which led one of our IBS Life readers to ask, “Is IBS a disability?”

The answer for those who have moderate to severe IBS is “yes.” Readers with IBS-D, for example, have shared stories of not being able to drive long distances, take an airplane, or sit on long train rides. Some share their stories of being unable to work full time or leave home for several hours. For folks with IBS-M, each day is uncertain, wondering if they’ll need to bring an emergency kit of clothing or medicines to ease their bloating and pain. Readers have talked about being hospitalized because of dehydration from IBS-D or an impacted bowel caused by IBS-C. More commonly, they have spoken about the impact of IBS on their mental health – not being able to control bowel movements can cause significant anxiety and stress.

Defining the term “disability”

Disney offers a disability pass to park attendees who have conditions that make it difficult to tolerate extended waits. Rather than standing in line waiting, the service allows their guests to schedule a return time.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) define disability as any condition that makes it challenging for someone to carry out typical activities and interact with the world around them.

Social Security defines disability as the “inability to engage in any substantial activity because of any medical physical or mental impairment(s) that can result in death or an ailment that lasts continuously for at least 12 months.”

Based on these definitions, moderate-to-severe IBS could be seen as a disability. Yet, because it’s not visibly “seen” (eg, a wheelchair, a white cane, a seeing eye dog), it’s hard for the public to see IBS as a disability. Many insurance companies also don’t always make it easy for policyholders with IBS to get the disability benefits they deserve.

But this doesn’t mean that it’s hopeless. It does, however, mean that proving a disability truly exists to receive benefits will be much more complicated.

What bowel syndromes qualifies for disability?

The Social Security Administration indicates that inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) can qualify for disability benefits. However, it doesn’t distinguish between any of the different illnesses that fall under the IBD category (eg, ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s Disease).

In some cases, IBS may qualify for Social Security disability. However, the disability benefit is explicitly tied to one’s ability to engage in daily activities. To show that the IBS prohibits individuals from maintaining gainful employment, they will need to indicate (and back it up with medical documentation) that they are unable to perform physical work. These symptoms can also have an impact on other aspects of health. For example, IBS may contribute to fatigue, nutritional deficiencies, and mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression. These additional health issues can lead to challenges to daily living. Therefore, the impact on mental health will also need to be documented.

The battle for public acceptance

The negative comments viewed on TikTok from @kaylaripp are the result of the general public believing that IBS is not a “serious” condition. However, we know it can be debilitating. The editors of IBS Life applaud Disney for its efforts to support people with all forms of disability. Granted, a few individuals will take advantage of the physicality of disability, but the hope is that is few and far between.

If you plan to mention IBS as a disability when traveling, here are some things to prepare for:

  1. Be ready for people to question it and respond to it factually and not emotionally

  2. Have a doctor’s note and phone number available so your condition can be verified

  3. Provide documentation of the disability (eg, a letter from a physician, a diagnosis describing the type of limited activities)

  4. Be respectful of others who may not appear to be disabled