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Faking disability

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I spent my entire life surrounded by disabled people... And in 36 years of this, I never met a person who was feigning their disability to scam the system, advance themselves by taking advantage of others' sympathy, or "get attention."
—Gabe Moses[1]

Faking disability involves pretending to have a disability for social or financial reasons. Legitimately faking a condition can be hard work, so it isn't as common as people might think.[2]

Increased scrutiny and skepticism brought on by fakers can make life more difficult for people with disabilities.[3]

Actual cases[edit]


There are a few reasons people may fake being disabled.

  • Collecting government benefits
  • Not wanting to work
  • Dodging a draft
  • Factitious disorder, in which the person feigns health conditions for sympathy
  • Pretending associated with body integrity dysphoria
  • Avoiding criminal prosecution


  • A few people ask for a wheelchair at airport security in order to skip the line.[4]
  • Non-disabled people may claim that their pet is a service animal, even if the pet isn't trained to behave.[5] This can lead to negative attitudes against service animals, and a misbehaving animal may distract actual service animals from their work.[6]
  • Some athletes have faked disabilities in order to get into the Paralympics.[7][8]
  • During the COVID-19 pandemic, anti-maskers sometimes pretend to have health conditions to avoid wearing protective masks.[9][10] Unfortunately, this is fostering negative attitudes against disabled people who genuinely can't wear masks.[11]
  • Donald Trump has admitted to faking bone spurs on his feet to get out of military service in the Vietnam War.[12][13] According to the daughters of the doctor who diagnosed him, the doctor did this as a favor for his landlord (Fred Trump) and received preferential treatment as a tenant in return.[14]
  • For 30 years, Mafia boss Vincent Gigante faked insanity to avoid prosecution.
  • In 2007, a woman claimed to have severely limited mobility in order to gain disability benefits. She was filmed sweeping a stable yard at her job, without the mobility aid she "needed" and in no visible distress. She was required to pay back all the money she had wrongfully claimed.[15]
  • In 2017, a fisherman in the U.S. pretended to be too disabled for full-time work, even though he kept fishing commercially. When caught, he plead guilty.[16]
  • The 2019 college admissions scandal involved wealthy parents faking evidence of learning disabilities in their children so that the teens would get extra time on exams.[17] These accommodations are meant to level the playing field for slower-moving students (like those with dyslexia or dysgraphia) and relieve anxiety in students who may struggle with staying calm.[18] (Yet according to a 2003 study, extra time isn't beneficial to non-disabled students.[19])

Faking disability is generally illegal and may result in fines and/or a prison sentence (depending on the nature of the offense).

Consequences for disabled people[edit]

There are too many agencies out there with the ostensible purpose of helping us that still believe that as long as we technically can do something, like crab-walking our way into a subway station, we should have to do it. Like kids in a classroom, we pass each other the answers to tests: say this on that benefits application, not that. Use this careful wording in the ER so they'll give you pain meds that work. Here's how to stress your body out enough that it will do that weird thing tomorrow at your doctor's appointment, because sometimes our bodies love to just randomly work perfectly right when we most want them to fail, right when there are witnesses present who could maybe tell us why.
—Gabe Moses[1]

In response to fakers, government agencies may increase scrutiny and make people jump through more hoops in order to get services. This creates more work for disabled people (when the last thing they need is more challenges in life). The Trump administration has proposed monitoring the social media accounts of disabled people to make sure they aren't faking.[20] (That could be serious trouble for people who don't match the stereotypes.[21])

In some cases, there may be threats of ending services altogether. This could be disastrous to the disabled people who depend on them.

And when more fraud occurs, more skepticism frequently follows, leading to false accusations against people with real disabilities.[22]

False accusations[edit]

People think because I can get up from my wheelchair that I am "faking" needing it and this isn't isolated. A lot of people do not know that ambulatory wheelchair users exist and it can lead disabled people like myself to be at risk of harassment and violence.
—Annie Segarra, who has a limited ability to walk[23]

People with disabilities may be falsely accused of faking their conditions.

Sometimes people just glare or stare at disabled people who don't "look disabled."[24] Other times, people with disabilities get accosted and called names.[25][26] (This can be seriously bad if the person has a health condition that is triggered by stress.)


There are multiple reasons why someone could be wrongfully accused of faking:[27][28]

  • The accuser doesn't understand how disabilities work. For example, many wheelchair users can briefly stand or walk a few steps.[29] Many autistic people can use Twitter or lead outgoing lifestyles. Many legally blind and deaf persons still have some limited amount of vision or hearing. This doesn't mean they're faking.
  • The accuser doesn't understand that chronic illnesses involve good days and bad days. Someone who only uses a cane or a service dog on certain days isn't faking.
  • The disability is invisible. For example, someone who looks able-bodied could need an accessible parking spot due to severe chronic pain.
  • The accuser wants to harm the reputation or livelihood of the disabled person.
  • The accuser doesn't like the disabled person calling them out on bad behavior, so they say that the person isn't disabled. This may be done against autistic advocates in particular, sometimes overlapping with the No True Scotsman fallacy.[30][31]
  • The disabled person occasionally smiles in selfies on social media, and because the accuser thinks that disabled people must be sad 100% of the time, they see this as evidence of faking.


False accusations of disability can range from stressful to dangerous.

  • An airplane worker accused a 10-year-old girl with severe asthma of faking her disability. The family was running late because the girl tired easily, and she ended up lying on the floor for half an hour before employees came to speak with her family. The little girl blamed herself for the employees' behavior, saying "This is my illness spoiling things again." The family was forced to miss their flight.[32]
  • Comedians Sara and Erin Foster mocked a woman with Lyme disease for being able to appear on TV and trying to raise awareness for her illness.[33]
  • Doctors and nurses may dismiss signs of a legitimate illness,[34] especially if the patient has a mental disability.[35] Thus, necessary care could be delayed or even denied entirely.
  • One of the most notorious examples happened in 2013, with the Twitch streamer Angel Hamilton, known at the time as zilianOP. When he streamed, he was always sitting on a wheelchair, so people assumed that he couldn't walk at all. Then one day, he was seen walking for a short time during a stream, and everyone assumed he was faking a disability. He ended up losing his career over this, being banned from Twitch as a result.[36] However, it turned out that he really did need the wheelchair, but as he was going through physical therapy, he had gotten to the point that he could walk short distances in his house without a wheelchair.[37] Still, despite trying to rebrand as ItsBlooish, he will always be stuck with the stigma of having supposedly "faked" his disability.

Consequences for disabled people[edit]

I am currently disabled. I've worked my way up to being up and about for an hour to two each day... Today, when I parked my car, a man came up and said suspiciously, "You don't look disabled." I said I just had surgery and rushed away. This happens almost any time I use my handicapped tag... I never know how to respond, and knowing that these interactions are coming makes me anxious about leaving my apartment.

People with disabilities already face stigma, and some of them are already hesitant to access accommodations for fear of being singled out.[39] False accusations only make things worse for them.

The fear of false accusations has made many disabled people nervous. Websites coach disabled people on how to make sure they don't look like they're lying to their doctors.[40][41]

Accusations of faking can be harmful to people who are legitimately disabled.

  • People may be afraid to use their abilities. For example, a wheelchair user might be afraid to stand up for even 10 seconds for fear of being mocked or accused of faking.
  • Disabled people may face pressure to prove their disabilities, in person or online. Some (especially those whose disabilities affect their judgment) may end up sharing personal medical details that could be seen by prospective employers.
  • They may choose not to ask for help.[42]
  • People with disabilities may forego leaving the house due to fears about confrontation.
  • Public accusations may harm someone's reputation.

Horrifyingly, there are online communities dedicated to rooting out and harassing so-called "fakers." These communities may end up bullying people with disabilities.[1]

Disabled people who think they're faking[edit]

I feel sick to my stomach, full of worry and anxiety that all this time I've just been in a bad mood and, as a result, have been abusing the NHS and its resources when there are other people out there who need the help more than me.
—Fiona Thomas, depression survivor[43]

Sometimes people with legitimate disabilities start worrying that they're "faking it" somehow, or may even believe they don't deserve support.

  • Imposter syndrome can impact disabled people too, even when there's overwhelming evidence they have a disability or illness.
  • Some mental illnesses affect self-esteem and may cause thought distortions and beliefs that they are undeserving of care.[44] Guilt over needing help may turn into worries about faking.[45]
  • Certain conditions (such as ADHD, depression, and PTSD) are diagnosed through questionnaires. Thus, the person lacks "concrete" proof of illness or disability.
  • Many conditions vary in severity from day to day. Thus, on a good day, the person might suddenly worry they are faking.
  • People may internalize the criticism they hear. For example, an autistic person who has always been told that they're "dramatic" and "too sensitive" may believe the name-callers instead of the doctor.

However, legitimate fakers tend not to spend time worrying about whether they're faking.

In some cases, people may mistake their symptoms for something else. For example, a person having a panic attack might think it's a heart attack,[46] or a person with illness anxiety disorder (formerly known as hypochondria) might think they're dying of a brain tumor when it's just a stress headache. However, this isn't intentional, so self-blame isn't logical.

In the media[edit]

I can find several media faking-disability reveals but not nearly as many representations of fluid disabilities or disabilities on spectrums. There is a grave imbalance that causes people to think this is more common than it actually is.
—Annie Segarra[47]

Faking disability has long been a trope in the media. From The Three Stooges[48] to Netflix's Insatiable,[49] stories have told of able-bodied people pretending to be disabled for financial or social reasons.

See also[edit]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Forced to Fake It: How the System forces Disabled People to Lie - The Body Is Not An Apology
  2. Busting the Myths About Disability Fraud - New York Times
  3. First Victims of Admissions Scandal? — Inside Higher Ed
  4. Faking a disability to cut the line at the airport? - Freedom Resource Center
  5. Stop Faking Service Dogs — Center for Disability Empowerment
  6. Why You Should Think Twice About Faking a Service Dog - Easter Seals
  7. Why would you DO that? Faking disability at the Paralympics
  8. Paralympics: 'Faking disability is no different to doping' - The Week
  9. Being anti-mask doesn't make you disabled, Newsday
  10. The Hot New Far-Right Trend: Claiming a Disability to Avoid Wearing a Mask, Daily Beast
  11. I can't wear a mask, Autistictic
  12. Trump made up injury to dodge Vietnam service, his former lawyer testifies — Military Times
  13. Buttigieg, a military vet, says Trump pretended to be disabled to dodge the draft — NBC News
  14. Podiatrist's daughters say bone spur diagnosis that helped Trump avoid Vietnam draft was 'favor'
  15. Stables hand to pay £11,000 in disability fraud - The Grauniad
  16. Maine fisherman pleads guilty to faking disability, collecting $157,000 — Press Herald
  17. The most reprehensible part of the admissions scandal: faking disability accommodations — Vox
  18. "Everybody's Doing It": Cheating Scandal Shows How Privileged Kids Fake Disability - Hollywood Reporter
  19. Our Response to the Varsity Blues Scandal — Eye to Eye)
  20. Trump Administration Wants to Spy on Disabled People’s Social Media to Make Sure They’re Not Faking It — The Mary Sue
  21. Smart Ass Cripple: 'You're Disabled? Prove It!' — The Progressive
  22. Healthy People Are Faking Disabilities To Get A Service Dog — Cracked
  23. The Real Effect Of Insatiable's Fat-To-Thin Narrative, According to 3 Fat Activists - Bustle
  24. Stop saying I’m faking my disability — The Mix
  25. Shopper with service dog says Walmart employee accused her of faking a disability — Miami Herald
  26. The Trope of Faking It — Disability in Kidlit
  27. I'm Tired Of Being Accused Of 'Faking' My Need For A Service Animal — Huffington Post
  28. You're Faking It! Stigma Surrounding Invisible Disability — Custom Mobility
  29. The Problem With the Article That Calls Out 'Airport Wheelchair Imposters' for 'Faking' Disability — The Mighty
  30. Autism Speaks and the No True Scotsman Fallacy — This Mess
  31. I'm Not "High-Functioning" — Autistic Dreams
  32. EasyJet worker accuses girl, 10, of faking disability when family was late - Metro
  33. When Sick People Don't Look Sick Enough, They Must Be Faking It — Huffington Post
  34. I'm not faking it: the shaming of invisible illnesses — Alligator
  35. How doctors mistreat disabled patients — Pacific Standard Magazine
  36. Gamer Accused of Faking Disability to Attract Donations on Twitch, Patricia Hernandez, 11 April 2013
  37. The Return of ZilianOP: Twitch's Biggest "Fraud" Comes Clean, wavywebsurf, 28 September 2020
  38. Not an Act — Dear Prudence
  39. Not lazy, not faking: teaching and learning experiences of university students with disabilities — Disability & Society, Volume 34, Issue 2
  40. 7 Ways to Cope If People Think You Are Faking Symptoms After a Stroke — Very Well Health
  41. What If a Doctor Says You Are Malingering (Faking) to Get Disability Benefits — Disability Secrets
  42. One Chronically Ill Student Had The Perfect Response To Those Accusing Her Of 'Faking' Her Condition — Her
  43. Why imposter syndrome makes me feel like I’m faking my mental illness — Metro
  44. Am I Faking It? Thoughts On Having An Invisible Illness — Huffington Post
  45. Is it normal to feel like you are faking your mental illness? — Quora (tl;dr: Yes.)
  46. Fake Heart Attacks and Real Hope: My Journey with Anxiety — InterVarsity
  47. Tweet by Annie Segarra
  48. Hokus Pokus: Now You See It, Now You Don't - Feminist disability studies blog
  49. The Eight Cringiest Moments in 'Insatiable,' the Worst Show on Netflix - Vice