Posted on April 9, 2008 · Posted in Brain Injury

I have never been a big fan of the politically correct terms when discussing brain injury, hence my own coining of the term ©Subtle Brain Injury in 1999. See Having served on several boards where all they did was argue about what were the appropriate 30 words to put in a mission statement or policy statement, I have had a resistance to many of the pronouncements to come out of brain injury groups. But today’s blog does plagiarize one of those catchwords for brain injury “the invisible injury”. Credit for this phrase probably belongs to the Brain Injury Association of America. While again, this was never my favorite phrase, as so many disabilities are invisible, with respect to issue with seizure dogs, it rings so true.

When I first began my online advocacy about brain injury, one of the first issues that came to the forefront was discrimination against seizure dogs. Wal-Mart’s and the like would of course never ban a seeing eye dog, but a seizure dog? That was just a pet. I may be misappropriating credit, but I am reasonably sure that Debbie Wilson, one of our original contributors to was carrying this torch in 1996. For unrelated poems of Debbie Wilson, click here.

Not long I first heard these cries on some of the seminal web TBI lists, Kimberly Carnevale was injured in a horse accident. One of the consequences of that injury was a seizure disorder. The German Shepherd, Dewey, that she had at that time had an ability to sense those seizures and warn her of the approaching danger, to assure that she could avoid additional damage of an unexpected seizure. Kimberly took her Dewey to be certified service dog, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations.

Yet like those with seizure dogs before her, Kimberly was denied access to some public areas with Dewey. This denial angered and motivated Kimberly enough to found an organization and establish a website to fight this ignorance and discrimination. The Organization is Canine and Abled, and the website is

Why does reading about that website and Kimberly at this morning make me think about the “invisible disability?” Because it is the invisible nature of brain injury and seizure disorders that accounts for that discrimination. No one would consider banning a seeing eye dog because the disability is so obvious to an observer. Likewise, no one would ban a wheelchair, for the same reasons. To deny someone a cane, is equally ridiculous. But, a dog, with a normal walking and talking person: that just seems like someone who wants to sneak their pet in.

I applaud Kimberly and her organization. Education is the key. In a sense, Dewey now makes Kimberly’s disability visible, if people are educated to understand his role. His role is as a prosthesis, an assistive device (not to inanimate Dewey) that will assist a disabled person, in a way not so dissimilar from a wheelchair, an artificial limb, to make their way in the world.

Later this week: Identifying and diagnosing the “invisible injury” and the need for other prosthetic aids for brain injury survivors.

About the Author

Attorney Gordon S. Johnson, Jr.
Past Chair Traumatic Brain Injury Litigation Group, American Association of Justice :: 800-992-9447