Posted by Ainslee Hooper
On June 14, 2021

10 things to know about… ableist microaggressions.

This week’s “10 things to know about…” is dedicated to microaggressions, but before I launch into my list, I want to set the scene for what a microaggression is.

‘Microaggression’ is a term used for “….daily verbal, behavioural or environmental slights, intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative attitudes toward stigmatised or culturally marginalised groups”. Sue DW (2010). Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation. Wiley. pp. xvi.

Ableist microaggressions are therefore those slights, intentionally or not, which are directed toward people with disabilities and intentionally or not, cause harm to the person with a disability. So here are my top 10 things I want people to know about microaggressions.

  1. Speaking in a sing-song/patronising voice or speaking slowly and/or loudly to a person with a disability is a microaggression.

2. Speaking to the person with a disabled person, rather than directly to the person with a disability is a microaggression.

3. Assuming all people with the same disability have the same wants and needs is a microaggression

4. Assuming people with disabilities do not want/have the same experiences with people their same age is a microaggression.

5. Being surprised when you see a successful person with a disability is a microaggression.

6. Being offended when a person with a disability attempts to highlight inequality or an infringement on their human right is a microaggression.

7. Using terms such as “standing ovation”, “climbing the corporate ladder” or asking an audience to “get up on your feet” are forms of microaggressions.

8. Saying things like “I don’t see your disability” or “I forget you have a disability because you are so normal” are forms of microaggressions.

9. Choosing to learn about disability from people who do not have a disability, is a microaggression.

10. Disputing a disabled person’s experience by offering an alternative opinion of the event when you were not there to see it.

Have you caught yourself saying or doing something that is considered a microaggression? Are you a disabled person who has also been on the receiving end of a microaggression not listed here? This has been a difficult list for me to write as all these examples are ones I have experienced first hand and see on a daily basis. Generally, people do not mean to use or enact microaggressions. It is a symptom of the inequity and inequality that continue to persist in society. However the more we acknowledge and talk about these microaggressions, the closer we come to minimising them and breaking down invisible barriers.

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1 Comment

  1. Steve Carey

    Great post Ainslee. May I query one point, though? In number 6 you say, ‘Being surprised when you see a successful person with a disability is a microaggression.’

    I’m not sure that how we feel or our immediate, instinctive reactions (wherever they’ve come from – cultural, very probably) are actually microaggressions. We can’t control how or what we feel, but we absolutely can and need to work on how we express ourselves. I’m thinking of the Harvard Implicit Bias test, which shook me when I took it, as I think it does everyone. It certainly brought home to me that I have biases that I’m not even aware of. But is having such a reaction a microaggression?

    What’s your view on this please?


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