#heardwhilstdisabled: Things said to disabled people

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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  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    @10 yasuaki

    Have you thought of carrying an Autism Alert card? You can get them from the National Autistic Society. If you had that and maybe a Disabled Ralicard, they might take more care around you on the trains.

    Mind you, when I had a problem with a rail replacement bus and showed my Autism Alert card I was told I shouldn't be travelling alone! But that's rare.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Perhaps those "able bodied" "sane" people are the ones who are actually disabled as they cannot see those who are different - physically or mentally - as valid, worthwhile people who can and do contribute to society. And that contribution can be by making others more tolerant, more compassionate, more human.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Sometimes, people don't know what to say to a person with a physical disability; this includes persons on psychiatric medication that causes ticks, salivating, or jerky movements. So, they either say nothing & stare; or they revert to dark (mean) humor - painful statements.
    A. Try to remember that a full-bodied, healthy individual can still be emotionally disabled.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    @ 5 - I got evicted from the disabled area of a train carriage by a guard to make room for a bike. I am autistic, and I tend to zone out on trains. I therefore need to stay with my luggage or I might forget it. The guard refused to listen to me and publically humiliated me by making it a whole carriage scene. Fortunately the next stop was mine, because by then my stress was at breaking point.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    @8 that sounds familiar. People still really don't understand autism. There are a lot of stereotypes that are outdated, and every autistic person is affected differently, but we get lumped together and that causes awkward moments when assumptions are made. I'm generally ok with socialising, my imagination is fine - but I can't do numbers or remember directions..things people think of as strengths.


Comments 5 of 13


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