#heardwhilstdisabled: Things said to disabled people

  • 16 September 2013
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Woman in a wheelchair with people pointing at her - posed by models

The #heardwhilstdisabled hashtag is doing good business on Twitter. Parodying "overheard in the office" columns, disabled social media users are contributing uncomfortable glimpses into their lives by sharing the things the public can say.

The subsequent tweets are full of fascinating misunderstandings and bigger examples of being patronised, which can sometimes materially affect lives and the way disabled people want to live.

Here's a selection:

  • "I'd give anything to be sick like you and be thin"
  • "You're smiling - you can't be in that much pain"
  • "If she was my kid, I'd have her walking by now"
  • "So, is your daughter normal then?"
  • "Isn't it lovely to see them out and about?"
  • "People don't want to see people with disabilities on stage - they've come out to have a nice time"
  • "People like you should be in homes, it's not fair that the rest of us have to deal with your problems"

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson is not immune either. She tweeted: "[D]id you really think about getting pregnant because people like you will find it hard."

She told BBC Ouch that this was said to her by a "medical person" when she was 32 and at the height of her multiple gold-winning Paralympic career. Grey-Thompson said she then had to visit a social worker to talk about what would happen if she found she couldn't cope with a child. "I said 'employ a nanny'," says the baroness.

The #heardwhilstdisabled hashtag is reminiscent of a project called Little Acts of Degredation, stories collected by an online magazine some years ago. The hashtag is having punchy, poignant fun whereas the old project sought to capture and analyse that drip-drip-drip effect of negative comments which disabled people say can really bring them down, making it harder to laugh off.

Twitter users who are following the hashtag - and the similar #heardwhiledisabled - have registered their surprise and dismay: "Must say this hashtag is making me lose faith in the human race," says one, and another user tweeted: "It's a shocking insight into disability prejudice."

A user called @EverydayAbleism seems to be at the heart of the hashtag and discussion. Putting aside the "should we use the term ableism or disablism" debate, many would think of these comments as prejudiced, or indeed disablist. But they don't carry the same level of disgust that is now associated with sexist, homophobic and racist comments. Others would just think of them as a bit silly or even an understandable human reaction.

It first emerged about the same time that campaigning hashtag #EverydaySexism, which catalogues instances of sexism experienced by women.

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