Disablism and microaggressions #badd2014


Today is Blogging Against Disablism Day. I recommend heading over to #BADD2014 and reading some of the many posts that have been submitted.

Disablist abuse is very real. I have written about being shouted at in the street and it was sadly not an isolated incident for me.

Many disabled people experience much worse. A man in my city was kept as a slave and beaten to death, a woman in Warwickshire was tortured and murdered, and a woman has been charged with murdering her three disabled children only last week.

But along with these significant and devastating stories of abuse, disabled people can also experience almost constant microaggressions that demean and dehumanise us.

Microaggressions can be defined as, “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people”, although they are not unique to racism. The Microaggressions Project has documented hundreds of examples of this phenomenon, in relation to many different oppressions, and in its early days I submitted one of my own:


A man I don’t know nods at my elbow crutch and says, “I’d kill myself if I became disabled. No, really, I would”.

The first time somebody says something like that to you, it is shocking. More shocking, perhaps, is how accustomed you can become when you’ve heard it for the tenth or twentieth time.

These comments and behaviours can take many forms. Julie Ann Freke and Queen Briaz have heard the ‘but you don’t look sick’-style comments, designed to undermine our experience and its validity:

We can find that people are disgusted or appalled by our very existence.

Other people have their specialist equipment co-opted for other people’s entertainment. Some people request a ‘ride’ on a wheelchair, while Margo Milne reports that,

A common theme in reports of microaggressions is attitudes that suggest that any accommodations we get make us ‘lucky’.

Our life choices are criticised, ridiculed and judged.

Other people are made invisible, moved out of the way, or leaned over with no regard for their personal space or even their existence at times.

People who tut when we move slowly, whisper comments about our appearance or impairment, or laugh at the way we walk or talk might think that we don’t notice but these experiences, when they take place every single time we leave the house, are tiring and can make us feel like we are simply not welcome – or safe – in a public space.

Disablism does not have to consist of kicks and punches to be valid, distressing or limiting. Quiet ‘asides’, stares and whispered judgements may not put us in hospital, but they contribute to an oppressive and discriminatory environment that should be as unacceptable to feminists as any other form of oppression.

Everybody needs to take responsibility for eradicating disablism, especially in the current political environment where disabled people are being disproportionately targeted by far too many of the government’s ‘austerity measures’. Every social justice activist should be alarmed and moved to action to support disabled people’s protests and take our lead on what action needs to be taken.

I will add more examples of disablist microaggressions to this Storify as the day goes on.

[The image is the Blogging Against Disablism Day logo. It is square shaped and contains stick images of people, some of whom are using mobility aids]