19 May, 2014


I've noticed that some portrayals of the disability experience in fiction are pretty much diametrically opposed to the disability experience in real life.

In fiction:
  • Employers have no choice but to hire disabled applicants even when they are not qualified, because they could be sued for not hiring a disabled person
  • Disabled people's work is disproportionately rewarded even when it's bad, because people feel sorry for us or are just positively biased toward us
  • It's easy and profitable to fake a disability in order to get disability benefits from the government
  • Professors have to provide ridiculous accommodations for students who say they are disabled, when in fact those students are lazy or not smart enough to be in college
  • People with mental disabilities are the perpetrators of violent crimes
  • A "black transgender disabled lesbian" has a big advantage in life because people want to give her jobs and other opportunities
In reality:
  • Employers often do not want to hire disabled applicants because of their mistaken ideas about what our disability means.  It's easy for them to discriminate against us because they can just say "We didn't think you'd be a good fit for the job" or something like that.  They also can fire someone for being disabled if they just pretend to fire them for a different reason.  Even if an employer admits that they are not hiring someone or firing them because they are disabled, suing someone is expensive.
  • Some disabled people are legally allowed to be paid a fraction of minimum wage if their employer says they cannot work as fast as a non-disabled person. For example, Goodwill does this, and plenty of people think it is acceptable. (Articles about Goodwill: here and here, and many comments asserting that disabled people are not good enough workers to deserve minimum wage: here, here, and here; and saying that people who need accommodations do not deserve minimum wage, even though accommodations are their legal right: here).
  • In the US and the UK, it is a lot of work to even apply for disability benefits (more work than some disabled people can do); many disabled people are denied benefits for stupid reasons; and the benefits are not very much.  You also then can't save money, or you will lose your benefits.
  • It's a lot of work to get accommodations in college (again, more work than some disabled people can do; my post about that here); and even if you do all the work to get accommodations, a professor might refuse to give them to you if they feel like it.  This happened to someone I knew whose professor thought it was stupid for her to get a note-taker, so he dragged his feet on arranging it and then tried to arrange it in a way that revealed the disabled student's identity, which he was not allowed to do.  Many disabled students in college are struggling due to lack of support, and about half the (smart, hardworking) disabled kids I met in college had to drop out.  Still, some people imagine that disabled students are coasting through life on a fluffy cloud of accommodations (here).
  • People with mental disabilities are disproportionately the victims of violent crimes and society often makes excuses for the criminals, causing this type of crime to seem more and more acceptable for potential murderers and abusers.
  • A black transgender disabled lesbian has to deal with racism, transphobia, ableism, homophobia, and sexism; the intersections thereof; and feeling like an outsider even in minority communities.  Plus, she's constantly invoked as a joke to show how bad "political correctness" supposedly is.
So, you have to ask: why is being disabled portrayed as being so easy and coming with so many opportunities, when in fact it comes with a lot of disadvantages?  Watching TV (and hearing some people talk), you would think that we live in a society ruled by disabled people.


  1. This is such a great post. You made so many good points that need to be driven home. I hate it when people accuse those who have to get by with disability benefits or welfare as being lazy and living a lavish lifestyle. A lot of them don't realize that, as you pointed out, you're not allowed to save the money you get, and that they have ways of checking since you have to include information about your bank accounts when you apply. Also, very good point about how hard the benefits are to apply for. Though I've never had to apply for them personally, I can imagine how hard it must be from my experience with getting unemployment benefits. So much paperwork!
    There is such a failure of empathy towards people with disabilities in our culture. So many of us don't think about it until it affects us personally. When I was studying interior design and learning to design spaces that were ADA compliant, it was really eye-opening for me. I also realized that anyone at any time could become disabled, whether permanently or temporarily. So why not design spaces where everyone can feel welcome and get around easily?
    I think that having more realistic and positive portrayals of people with disabilities in media (books, tv, and movies) will help so many people, disabled or not. The posts about this on the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign have given me a lot to think about. For example, the countless medical dramas that portray becoming disabled as a fate worse than death, or the use of characters with disabilities as inspirational props rather than human beings with their own interesting inner lives and adventures.

  2. I can't think of a post more needed. And I bet you could speak volumes about special education. In my 25+ years of teaching special education, I believe it is broken and desperately needs fixing. And not through legislation only. I believe special education got into this situation by changes brought about lawsuits which only had one "issue" or "challenge" in mind.... which necessitated the next lawsuit, and so on. Sorry for intruding - just reminded me of all that hurts me.

  3. Nicely written - and accurate. Now, what do we do about some of these things? For one, we who are disabled need to also be consulted. And listened to - solutions that don't include our input aren't helpful. And waste money. Instead of spending it the right way.


  4. This is quite true. Others might think that disabled people often receive special treatment at work, when in fact they are the ones who are most ignored. It’s not as easy to work accordingly when you lack in something that is very essential in work. I hope this post could act as an eye-opener for everyone. Thanks for sharing.

    Patricia Briggs @ Source Brokerage