24 July 2010

The lowest of the low

Being female, gay and disabled1 you'd think I'd experience 3 times as much discrimination as a disabled but otherwise socially privileged bloke, right?

Wrong. All the discrimination I ever experience is disablism.

Not only is experiencing daily disablist acts (like not being able to get into a brand new café) frustrating, there's also the constant reminders that discrimination against disabled people provokes the least outrage among society at large out of all the isms.

Easter weekend 2009 there was the amazonfail brouhaha. It doesn't matter if someone from amazon.fr pressed the wrong button which "accidentally" meant rankings were stripped from any books to do with homosexuality or sex and disability. Where the conscious and deliberate disablism occurred was in the web/media frenzy. Everyone on the planet cried "homophobia" in their tweets, blog posts and news articles. Only a tiny, tiny smattering of people gave a crap that books on disability and sexuality had been affected too.

A couple of months ago the LGBT Labour party conference were refused drinks in a London pub. The story of homophobic discrimination spread across the internet like wildfire and was global news within a couple of hours. My gut reaction upon reading the story was to tweet Greencoat Boy: The gay in me is horrified. The disabled in me says "so what? Disabled people get refused service DAILY and it's not news.".

Two hours later my point got illustrated perfectly. I read this story of a wheelchair-using woman being refused service in a restaurant on the very same day. Naturally I tweeted the link. The story of a homophobic bar manager was tweeted and retweeted thousands and thousands of times. How many people retweeted the tale of a disablist restaurant manager? Two. Not two thousand; just two.

Yesterday it was news that a niqab-wearing young Muslim woman and her friend were refused entry onto a bus for "being a threat". I'm refused entry to roughly one in 5 of the buses I try to board because I'm a wheelchair user. Very often the driver doesn't even have the balls to tell me he's going to refuse me access, he just pulls up at the stop, doesn't get the ramp out, allows able-bodied2 passengers to board and then drives off.

Where's my news story in the top 10 on the BBC News website? Where's my "urgent investigation" into the discrimination I faced?

Superaleja once referred to "multiple layers of discrimination, like a crip-fail onion," which I think perfectly describes the 3 situations I've written about here. First disabled people get discriminated against, then there's the second layer of discrimination where we're denied the public outcry of horror that would be extended to the same discrimination being committed against any other minority group.

1 I have been told on many an occasion that it's a shame I'm not black too. During my stand up days (before I became too ill to carry on) I had an 'anti-fan' in Brighton who came to see me every time I gigged in the city to accuse me of being racist for telling the story of how daft people sometimes say "it's a shame you're not black." Being so hated really made me feel like I was doing the job properly.
2 I'm deliberately using the phrase "able-bodied" as the opposite of "physically impaired". There's a chance that some of the people boarding the bus are both disabled and able-bodied.


  1. I think intersectionality and multiple discrimination are complex things. Different kinds of discrimination look and feel very different. Disablism has a very different quality to homophobia, which has a different quality again from misogyny (which I cannot spell). Doesn't mean the others don't exist. It's just much easier to recognize disablism (IMHO). And yes, it definitely doesn't help that the other two forms of discrimination are generally considered less acceptable - but then, they're driven underground and become less obvious, rather than disappearing.

  2. Also, can I reference/quote from this in the training I'm doing at the UK Feminista summer school? I'll reference it in any way you'd like - username or real name.

  3. I agree that different types of discrimination take on different forms and that multiple isms make things complex.

    But there is that 2nd layer of discrimination where disablism doesn't get the outcry that all the other isms do. And I think that is what really marks out society as more disablist than any other ist.

    Of course you can quote me. I'm not fussed by which name.


  4. Yep, I agree - that's what makes disablism worse. I hope it's a symptom of the disability rights movement having been around less time than, say, feminism. A similar level of invisibility used to go with misogyny 50 years ago. I hope we can keep working towards the point, ideally in less than another half-century, when people *see*, and protest, everything from forced ECT for psychiatric patients to the refusal of bus drivers to accept wheelchair users.

    And I also wonder who the people are whose rights are even more ignored than ours. And I hope I don't contribute to that for anyone else through my own ignorance.

    Fab, then I shall quote & reference.

  5. I'm also female, bi and disabled and I must say, I could count the number of times I've encountered sexism and homophobia (or, on one occasion, bi-phobia..) in my life on my fingers. In order to say the same about disablism I'd have to change 'in my life' to 'in a day'.

    For instance - this morning I tried to get on a bus where there was already a pushchair in the wheelchair spot. I was refused, of course, until I offered to get out of the chair and fold it up as I was sick of waiting at the bus stop and figured I could sit on a bus seat for a while. Problem is, /nobody on the bus would offer me a seat/ and instead just /glared/ at me for taking up all their time and making such a fuss.

    I had to wait half an hour for another bus.

    And /nobody/ cared. /Nobody/ thought that there was anything wrong with what they were doing.

    Am I somehow less human for being in a wheelchair?