Well Behaved (Disabled) Women Seldom Make History

Published by Mary Doyle

Well behaved Disabled Women seldom make history

Photo credit: Tom Olin

In recognition of UN’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities today on the 3rd December 2020, I’ll let you into a well-known secret, Disabled people are everywhere. I’m like a skilful ninja, you may not see me, but I can assure you I’m present. Disability has always existed, it’s part of life and will continue as part of the diversity of the human existence, naturally or acquired through life due to trauma, disease or age.

20% of the world population (WHO figures) identifies as having a disability, so it is very likely part of your family, workplace and local community and will largely go unnoticed, as most disabilities (70+%) are invisible and do not have any external indicators, like a walking stick, cane, hearing aids, walking frames or wheelchairs. Disability does not discriminate and can happen to any social group or identity at any time, and talking about it will reduce fears, increase understanding, create solutions and improve equality for all citizens.

Disabled people are not one homogenous group of permanently vulnerable people, as commonly reported. Everyone (disabled and non-disabled) experiences vulnerability at some point in their lives, we’re all only human. And this year has been tougher than most, keep going.

I subscribe to the Social Model of Disability (which is already over 40 years old) where disability is the effect of the interaction of the person’s impairment with various barriers in society. Impairment is the loss of cognitive, sensory, or physical function. Also, everyone experiences their impairment differently.

Seeing disability as an interaction enables society to remove barriers.

The main points are of the Social Model are:

  • Disabled people are equal citizens with a right to participate in all parts of life with dignity and who have control over their own lives and bodies.
  • Disability is imposed by society; therefore, it is society that disables people, it is like racism, sexism and it can lead to is disadvantage, discrimination and social oppression.
  • Society can reduce, and ultimately remove, disabling barriers, and this task is the responsibility of society, rather than the Disabled person.

This is a change in perspective for many people and this is also what coaching encourages, curiosity to explore different perspectives safely without judgement and also awareness of your own potential.

Even in 2020, worldwide many Disabled people are still routinely experiencing oppression, segregation and discrimination.

This is also compounded by intersectionality. I believe in rights, not charity, to empower Disabled people.

The UK Equality Act (2010) states:

•        Everyone is valued equally as individuals

•        Everyone has equal access to social resources such as healthcare, education and transport

•        No one is discriminated against because of an aspect of their identity

•        No one is prevented from achieving their potential because of social barriers such as class

•        Everyone has equal rights under the law

I know we will always live in a world where impairment exists, yet we need not live in a disabling world. Removing all the barriers would make a massive impact on my quality of life to participate, live, work, etc but I will always have my impairment (of awesomeness) and that will never go away in my case. The Social Model of Disability also removes the perceived shame and negativity around being Disabled and instead focuses on barriers in society and being Disabled is seen as a positive identity to be proud of. I go along with “Why blend in when you were born to stand out?”.

There are three different types of barriers that we can see in society:

  1. Attitudes – negative opinions, assumptions, prejudices, stereotyping
  2. Physical – lack of accessible information, restricted building access, ease of using services
  3. Organisational – processes and practices that inhibit or reduce access

This Social Model way of looking at disability makes inclusion everyone’s responsibility at an individual level. Everyone needs to do the work, educating ourselves to become an ally, to actively reduce and prevent the three Social Model barriers, and not rely on the emotional labour of the oppressed communities (whether they are Disabled, LGBTQ+, Black, People of Colour, Indigenous) to hand you knowledge on a plate to realign your opinions.

What activities can you do to support inclusion and equality and become a Disability Ally?

I’m so glad you asked, non-disabled people are fundamental in ensuring equality happens by default and this is a team effort:

  • Ask where you are not sure, talk with your family, colleagues, customers, community.
    • Ask regarding the 3 barrier groups – attitudes, physical and organisational barriers – and
  • Listen to the experiences of Disabled people, if not and you’ll risk making assumptions about us and excluding us in your business growth or recovery
    • Learn more about disability and the discrimination they experience from Disabled people themselves
    • Use Social Model language, notice how Disabled people refer to themselves
  •  Learn how to be proactive and call out the requirements of Disabled people in your planning and delivery.
    • Work directly with Disabled people, not on our behalf or without engagement, “Nothing about us, without us!”
    • Actively reduce and prevent the three Social Model barriers, this is the very important bit
  • Think YES to inclusion.

As with all successful holistic strategies, by planning for the family, friends, employees, customers with the most access requirements, we will actually be serving all people to a higher standard, as accessibility and equality benefits every citizen. Disability inclusion is an essential condition to upholding human rights, sustainable development, and peace and security.

Rock your difference, bring the barriers down and allow others to do the same.


Mary offers 25+ years experience in software and telecoms as a female service delivery leader following programming and support roles. Mary’s teams have supported the electronic payments systems of many of the world’s largest banks. She managed global teams across all regions and cultures through 24/7/365 customer support and delivery challenges and led teams through full staff life cycle and multiple company acquisitions. In 2017, Mary completed her professional coach training to help people (especially those with a disability or unconventional/marginalised background) navigate work and life. Mary also works as a disability equality trainer, accessible aviation consultant and writer.





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