Tag Archives: disability

Claire Cunningham: Is dance without disabled performers actually… a bit boring?


Claire Cunningham started the discussion on Disability and Feminism at the WOW Festival with her speech below. Many many thanks to her for allowing us to publish it here.

Claire Cunningham

Claire Cunningham (photo from WOW website)

I am one of those individuals – whom perhaps some of the panel may despair of! I don’t know… That doesn’t really know what the identity of being a woman means for me. I think for me it has been quite eclipsed – in my dealings with others, but perhaps more so in my view of myself, with my identity of being a disabled person. And a disabled artist. And that is partly my own fault because of my fascination with what I have felt that disability that offers to my work. But that is also because I have went on a quite significant journey with that aspect of my identity, and I am not sure that I have gone on the same one yet with regard to being a woman.

Being here – and having been present at Women of the World festival in the last couple of years, definitely are part of that process for me, and of raising awareness in me that there are aspects of my being that I have quite purposely ignored and not dealt with. And like my shifting awareness around disability its a journey taken once you have found the people who shine a light on the subtle difficulties, and differences and behaviours that discrimination creates that you just have not noticed most of your life, because you didn’t know any other way.   I grew up just as blinkered about what it meant, or looked like, to be a woman, as I did about what it meant to be disabled.

I’m going to talk specifically about my journey regarding my perspective on disability, but I know it is just as applicable to viewing myself as a woman. But I just don’t think, if I’m honest, that I’ve convinced myself as much yet on that front. I think there is more de-programming I need to do on myself in that regard. Being here is part of that for me. Deprogramme old and imbedded notions of womanhood and soak up the endless possibilities of what it could mean…

I grew up not wanting to be disabled. I went to ‘mainstream’ schools and was the only child in those schools that had a visible impairment, a physical impairment related to Osteoporosis, that meant when I turned 14 I had to start using crutches. I kept thinking I would be off them in 6 weeks, next month, a few months, next year….its been 24 years….

I hated my crutches. With a passion. I became convinced – in those awful teenage years -that the crutches, and my physicality meant I was repulsive. I felt very ‘other’.

So I grew up with no role models – no disabled people to show me that it was ok to be disabled. Just the typical western media filled with images of bodies that were non-disabled. This was the ideal. This is how you are supposed to look. Portrayals I did see of disabled people – either they were objects of pity. To be helped. Or movie villains – people who had acquired an impairment and were so bitter about it they would therefore blow up the world as revenge, or alternatively kill themselves at the prospect of living as a disabled person.

So someone no-one wanted to be.

On being asked “Whats wrong with you?” I didn’t think twice to tell people what my medical diagnosis was. On being offered the prayers of strangers who wanted to pray that I would be healed… I didn’t question this. I was imbued from all sides with the idea – not consciously – that it would be preferable to not be in my state. That of course I would want to be ‘fixed’. That there was, naturally, something wrong with me. Or indeed, I was ‘unnatural’….

I did want to be fixed.

Then in 2005 I had an epiphany. My road to Damascus moment. I discovered dance. I didn’t mean to. It was an accident, I had never intended to dance. I had always thought dance was for-as I would have referred to them at that time – the ‘able-bodied’. Superfit people. People who could move really quickly, and jump and had straight pointy legs and straight pointy arms…clean lines. That’s not my body.

But what I began to see, was that the way my body had developed and evolved – through using the crutches meant it had great strength, and very specific strength. By that time I had been using the crutches for 14 years. My body had also grown certain skills and knowledge – it understood – without me thinking about it, how the crutches were weighted, how my weight was positioned on them, how to manipulate this skillfully, how to dance with them.

I discovered that giving my crutches to young, super-fit non-disabled professional dancers – they actually couldn’t do what I could do.

I began to accept that my use of crutches was offering me opportunity – as an artist, And in recognizing this I began to take on the identity of being a disabled person for myself, as opposed to being identified by others. I began to acknowledge that it shaped my work literally, but also that my lived experience of being disabled meant that I had a unique perspective on things and this was something I began to treasure.

Working in dance brought me into a world where the body is at the centre, its the tool of the artform, and it was now all about letting people see my body and how it moved. Therefore what also came with that was discussions around the aesthetics of bodies. Dance is, to me, the most body fascist of all arts and there is indeed the tradition that only young, superfit, non-disabled (and in this country still predominantly white) bodies are mostly what is seen onstage. Personally I just find this rather boring. My interest has been to push the notion that disabled bodies are not ‘wrong’ but rather different, therefore present more interesting, unexplored possibilities for movement. More colours on the palette you might say.

I told a leading national (non-disabled) dance company that I honestly wasn’t that interested in choreographing for them -‘You all kinda look the same to me…”, I told them. These young dancers were horrified… “but you cant say that! That’s discrimination!”

Yes. Yes it is discrimination. Of course I don’t truly mean it, but I am not choosing that quite controversial –and loaded- phrase by accident. It is fascinating to me to see the reaction it provokes. To suddenly see people who have assumed that they are in a better position than you, who think they would not want to be you, presented with the idea that perhaps I would not want to be them. Their bodies are not my ideal…

Now I’m not saying being disabled is a wonderful or easy thing. I don’t in any way mean to underplay or be flippant about the experience of those who have much more limiting or debilitating medical conditions than me, and who do face huge problems in terms of discrimination or lack of opportunity. But I do know many disabled people that have said openly to me that they would not want to be otherwise. Of course that is not true of everyone, but I feel that if we can start to shift the way disability is viewed, to a more acceptable, positive and valid experience, part of the diversity of humanity rather than a mistake, then it will only help everyone.

The natural progress of the human body as it ages is to develop impairments. Its a loss and therefore people grieve it….but it is natural. And as long as we treat disability as being something inferior, or shameful, we make it harder for everyone. This may seem a little flippant to some but -who doesn’t know a grandparent or ageing parent who is losing their hearing or developing difficulty walking but refuses to get a hearing aid, to get a walking stick…? I believe that the shame around disability is very much linked to this. The idea that the state of disability is inferior and undesirable reinforces this.

Disability, for me, is a state of existence, a way of being in the world. It is related to having a medical condition, and to how I am treated in the world, and the perspective that gives me- but it is not everything that defines me. I have and can have many identities -I’m a human being. I’m Scottish. I’m short. I’m white. I’m an artist. I’m a European. I’m an aunt. I’m single. I’m a homeowner. I’m a daughter. I’m a thirty-something. I’m a sister…. I’m a woman….

And I’m disabled. I would not want to not be disabled. I would not be the person I am. No offence to any of you out there who’s not disabled, I’m sure you’re great, I really wouldn’t want to be you….

I’m doing fine now….

Disabled women, feminism and other diverse communities

Michelle (in chair) with Martine (kneeling) and her son on Michelle's lap

Michelle with Martine and her son


Frances Ryan wrote a great article - “It’s not only steps that keep us out”: mainstream feminism must stop ignoring disabled women’ where she states that in matters of sex, sexuality and political campaigning, the resurgence of mainstream feminism overlooks disabled women.

Feminist and disability rights are born from a similar cloth. They are battles to acknowledge that oppression doesn’t come from a biological reality but a socially constructed inequality. They are concerned with idealised human bodies. They fight the structures and power that wish to control them; in sex, in work, in reproduction.

Its true that mainstream feminism do not often consider disabled women but we knew that - Jenny Morris has been writing and speaking about Feminism, Gender and Disability since the 1990’s.

Non-disabled feminists continue to treat disability as aside issue, an optional extra and in no way part of the so-called mainstream academic or political debates. The disabled people’s movement – while many and sometimes the majority of its activists are women – is still informed by political and theoretical debates which strangely sidelinewomen’s experiences and issues.

So  mainstream disability do not often recognise women’s issues neither. I spoke on intersectionality and disability at the Sisters of Frida’s gathering/party at WoW Festival at the South Bank

Disabled women who are discriminated against – from feminist communities, LGBT, faith communities because they insist on congregating in non accessible venues. And the segregation is also from the disabled people’s communities because they do not understand nor interested in other identities. Where do disabled women go to discuss about the roles of being disabled lovers, mothers if they were given the opportunity of being girlfriend, wife or mother. And there are those whose sexuality were being denied or even sterilised (often presumed to be for their  own good). And who knows how to support them when they are raped? A report by Professor Betsy Stanko, stated that the ‘rape of vulnerable women, especially those with learning difficulties, has effectively been “decriminalised”.

I guess I am speaking about the need for intersectionality also when we talk about disability – that we have more than one identity and we ought to acknowledge that – and that we should acknowledge we need a space for disabled women as disabled women, we need to listen to the different identities. And feminism needs to accommodate intersectionality too – speaking as a disabled woman of colour when I can be the only non white disabled at the table I feel a double disconnect. I m sure some of you here know what I m saying where you stop wanting to engage as a form of self protection.

Just this week we pointed to an event about campaigning black women that they had not included black disabled women in their program and offered to fill that gap. And they are responding positively so we might be the first to explore disability, gender and ethnicity/race in a workshop!

‘Special Rapporteur on violence against women :UK report


As Sisters of Frida, we went to meet the Special Rapporteur at Leicester. She has given her report –

‘Special Rapporteur on violence against women,  finalizes country mission to the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland and calls for urgent action to address the accountability deficit and also the adverse impacts of changes in funding and services’

Read the report at the  UN Human Rights website (http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=14514&LangID=E)

Rashida Manjoo wrote

It is important to recognize that the reduction in the number and quality of specialized services for women does impact health and safety needs of women and children, and further restricts them when considering leaving an abusive home, thus putting them at a heightened risk of re-victimization. Access to trauma services, financial support and housing are crucial, yet current reforms to the funding and benefits system continue to adversely impact women’s ability to address safety and other relevant issues.

Many of the front-line service providers that I met in all parts of the UK have told me that they face increasing demands for providing more services – including for men, while there are fewer funding opportunities. I was also informed of how additional duties undertaken by third sector organizations, such as in their involvement in Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conferences (MARAC’s) is not accompanied by more government funding, and is thus being undertaken at their own cost.

Furthermore, it was made clear to me how women from black and minority ethnic communities, women belonging to the LGBTI community, and women with disabilities, are further affected by these cutbacks. These women are, for many reasons, often linked to entrenched discriminatory practices in the political, social and economic spheres, and are more likely to depend on benefits and on support from an increasingly under-resourced non-profit sector. Unfortunately, it is precisely the specialized services catering for these women, which are being mostly affected, even more so than the mainstream violence against women and girls services, in many instances.

Much of the report touched on issues that affect disabled women on an intersectional level especially when you consider that many incarcerated women have also serious mental health issues.

It is crucial to recognize that violence against women is rooted in multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and inequalities, and strongly linked to the social and economic situation of women. Therefore, the intersections between gender-based discrimination and other forms of discrimination that contributes to and exacerbates violence against women should also be taken into consideration when designing and implementing the State’s response.

Considering their higher rates of victimization, the specific experiences and needs of black and minority ethnic women and girls who have experienced violence, need to be acknowledged. Specific taskforces or working groups, with representation from these communities, should be set up to ensure effective policy and programming around violence against them.


Ms. Rashida Manjoo (South Africa) was appointed Special Rapporteur on Violence against women, its causes and consequences in June 2009 by the UN Human Rights Council. As Special Rapporteur, she is independent from any government or organization and serves in her individual capacity. Ms. Manjoo is a Professor in the Department of Public Law of the University of Cape Town.

Learn more, visit: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Women/SRWomen/Pages/SRWomenIndex.aspx



Storying Disabled Women’s Sexual and Intimacy


This article by Kirsty Liddiard was first published on the Shameless Mag. 

Kirsty will be coming back back to the UK summer 2015 – we look forward to hearing more from her.

Storifying disabled women's sexual and intimate livesIllustration: Erin McPhee

In the dis/ableist cultures in which we live, disabled people’s(1) sexual selves are seldom acknowledged. We are, almost routinely, ascribed an asexual identity(2), where we are assumed to lack any sense of sexual feeling and desire. We are also deemed sexually inadequate because of the ways in which our distinctive sexual pleasures and practices, and Othered bodies and minds, contradict deep-seated sexual norms. Rather confusingly, some disabled people, typically those with the label of cognitive impairment, are considered to have sexualities that they can’t understand – a “hypersexuality” that they can’t control; and sexual desires that are somehow ‘deviant’ or dangerous to others. Further, where we are avowed a sexual identity, it is usually only within the realms of heterosexuality, leaving LGBTQQI2-S(3) disabled people further marginalized.

Within this, the sexual and intimate lives, selves and bodies of disabled women are further marked by patriarchy, sexism and misogyny (the hatred or dislike of women or girls). For clarity, I use the term patriarchy to refer the social hierarchy through which (cisgendered) males hold the greatest privileges in terms of social and sexual power. Intersecting with disability, patriarchy, sexism and misogyny mark disabled women’s lives in particular ways. For example, through our forced sterilization (taking away our ability to give birth); through our higher rates of sexual and intimate partner violence; through the broad denial of our sexual selves; through the chastising and punishing of our sexual desires within institutional spaces (like group homes) (particularly LGBTQQI2-S disabled people); through inhibiting our rights to love and be loved; through denying our rightful access to sexual support, information and education; through barriers within sexual and reproductive healthcare; and through the typical shaming of our sexual bodies, desires, and pleasures.

In this article, I write as both a disabled woman and a researcher. I discuss the sexual and intimate stories told by disabled women through my doctoral research which sought to explore the relationships between disability, sex, intimacy, and love. Crucially, I bring forward the voices of these women, applying their own words to embody the issues discussed. I do this not only because, politically, it’s important that my voice isn’t the only one (re)telling people’s stories, but because it offers the opportunity to identify, or relate to, the stories and words of others – regardless of disability status. Far from being “degendered” or stripped of gender, as disabled women often are in our culture, disabled women in my research told their stories first and foremost as women. While the women in my research identified as cis-women, I use the words ‘woman’ and ‘women’ in this article with a broad, inclusive and diverse understanding of “womanhood”; one which is inclusive of all cis, trans, and gender-queer women. While this is my personal anti-oppressive definition of woman and women, this study does not provide a trans-inclusive analysis of experiences with sex and disability, since participants identified as cis-gendered women. Therefore, my aim here is to (re)tell these intricate and intimate stories, drawing attention to the pleasures, fears, loves and uncertainties most prominent within disabled women’s stories about their own lives.

Secret Loves, Hidden Lives While the individual stories of both disabled men and women were marked in different ways by gender, race, class, nationality, age, religion, impairment type (e.g. sensory/physical) and the origins of impairment (whether acquired or congenital/from birth), disabled women’s collective sexual story was distinctly molded by heteronormativity, heterosexuality, and patriarchy. While heterosexuality is a sexual orientation, heteronormativity is the idea that heterosexuality – as a sexual preference, lifestyle, and societal institution – is the set norm from which all other sexual orientations and identities deviate. Noticeably, most women in the research tended to speak through a veil of (sexual) shame, embarrassed to articulate their pleasures and desires. It also wasn’t uncommon for whole chapters of women’s stories to be dedicated to their self-hatred and lack of body and sexual confidence, and there was an identifiable collective feeling of not embodying ableist and sexist ideals of womanhood “properly” or “appropriately” enough, for both themselves and their partners.

Sally(4): “Who would want to have sex with me when there are plenty of normal girls more than willing?”

Lucille: “I felt so bad about not wanting sex [after injury] that I kept telling him to have an affair”.

Jenny: [After a date] “His father came out to my car and told me to fuck off. He [boyfriend] didn’t have any disability… He said “fuck off you cripple and leave my son alone””.

This lack of confidence was further emphasised through women’s descriptions of their roles within their sexual and intimate relationships with others, and their own experiences of sexual pleasure and desire. While both men and women expressed great frustration at typically ableist (hetero)sexual norms – norms which dictate a fully-functioning, autonomous, mobile, “sexy”, strong and supple body for physical, penetrative, goal-orientated and genitally-focused activity – disabled men, for the most part, could negotiate a more empowering sexual role within their sexual lives and build a positive sexual identity.

For example, most men could often successfully negotiate dis/ableism(5), bodily impairment and constructions of masculinity (many of which are deeply oppressive for disabled men) to claim a gendered sexual self with which they were happy; one underpinned by body confidence and self-love, and through which they could experience sexual pleasure and desire without shame. Disabled men’s greater social and sexual power (afforded to them through patriarchy) also ensured greater practical sexual support from attendants, carers, and parents, which enabled better access to sex and sexuality than disabled women. In contrast, the majority of disabled women didn’t have the esteem or confidence to negotiate a desired role in sex; nor could they find a route to body confidence and self-love. Many women reported receiving little support within their sexual lives, saying that their desires were often overlooked by the people who provided their care. Most felt unfulfilled, inadequate and frustrated. All of these issues are compounded for LGBTQQI2-S disabled people (particularly disabled Trans people) whose identities often remain unrecognizable and Othered in the context of care and caring.

Rhona: “Although I knew that he adored me, I also always felt slightly as though I didn’t deserve him. I am a logical person, and I know that disability puts you further down the relationship league table.”

Jane: “I am unhappy [in the relationship] a lot. But I’m scared no one else would accept me. I just think people don’t accept people who are different.”

For some, a lack of self-love was compounded by experiences of violence. Disabled women experience higher rates of sexual violence than both disabled men and non-disabled (“able-bodied”) women (Canadian Women’s Foundation, 2011). These experiences of violence are heightened by the lack of privacy which is endemic to the disabled experience, but also by the fact that there is very little service provision for disabled women to report or escape sexual, physical and emotional violence. For disabled women of colour, aboriginal women, immigrant and refugee women and Trans women this can be further exacerbated by racism, ethnocentrism, xenophobia and transphobia. Therefore, a lack of violence support services which are accessible, culturally-appropriate and knowledgeable about LGBTQQI2-S issues adds to the problem.

Grace : “He wanted (and got) sex at least twice a day every day. Sometimes we had sex more than twice a day – even up to five times a day. It didn’t matter if I had my period or if I felt unwell or was pregnant. He wanted sex. If I refused, he made my life a misery, sulking and getting angry and taunting me. It was easier to do as he wanted. I seldom ever enjoyed it. And there was my deafness. I had left school with no qualifications, no career [her education was inaccessible]. A dead end job and an early marriage and children meant I had hardly any skills outside the home. He isolated me from my friends. He could not cope with me being deaf; as my deafness increased, he found it harder. He did not want a deaf wife. He hit me a few times.”

For other women, the difficulty in claiming positive sexual selfhood was further ground in the loud silences which surround the (sexual) lives of heterosexual and LGBTQQI2-S disabled women in mainstream culture. Representations of our sexual lives, selves and bodies seldom feature anywhere within popular culture. Where they do – for example, in films and on television – we are usually depicted as sexless, burdensome and pitiful. Interestingly, disabled people’s own (rights) movements have historically echoed this silence; it is only relatively recently that sex and sexuality – disabled people’s sexual politics – have been loudly and proudly placed on disability rights and justice agendas.

Gemma: “And, he [doctor] was just totally embarrassed. I thought ‘how bizarre’, he just didn’t want to tackle it at all. He was totally…aghast…didn’t comment and carried on [laughs]… I think having a couple of lesbians discussing their orgasms was not what he had in mind […] I just think that’s quite telling, really.”

Helen: “When I was younger I remember this one guy at school said “Can you have sex?” I was like “Yeah!”… Getting people to see past the chair… it’s difficult.”

Cripping Sex: What is a sexy body? While many seldom recognised it – or had the resources to claim it – the stories of some women explicitly showed the sheer and utter sexiness of difference and disability. Bodies which are both classified and labeled as impaired, “non-normative”, or different can truly challenge society’s prescriptive ideas of what constitutes a sexy body. These unique bodies can also radically crip(6) – or disrupt – sexual norms, opening up new possibilities and potentialities for pleasure. For example, some people spoke of experiencing many different types of pleasure outside of the quantified, measured, and charted key stages within the human sexual experience of arousal, climax and orgasm – aspects of sexuality which are aggressively positioned as necessary, even compulsory, within sex. I quickly realised that our cripped and queered bodies can subvert and expand sex in spaces where, for non-impaired (“able”) bodies, the scope for transformation may be limited.

Rhona: “Sex was brilliant, and we both enjoyed each other immensely: Intimacy, proximity, sensations, comedy, lack of control, feeling desired, being treated roughly and not as though I might break. It is also one of the few examples of when my body allows me a ‘time-out’, and I feel liberated. Done right, it is all pleasure and no pain.”

To go a little further, it is our beautifully complex bodies and minds which offer a glimmer of how conventional bodily pleasures, only ever physical and bodily, can be cripped and queered, in order to expand “sex” to include our minds, senses, imagination and spirituality. For example, the imagination was a central form of eroticism for many of those who took part in the research. Many women said that their imagined erotic experiences were the times when they felt the sexiest and most turned on. Others, who had displaced erogenous zones (which can result from spinal injury), could orgasm through stroking arms or feet. For example, one disabled man who had found it difficult to orgasm in the conventional way discovered that he could orgasm through his partner stroking his shoulders. This inevitably led to many nights of shoulder stroking… and shows how disabled bodies can expand and envelope pleasure in new, exciting ways.

Hannah: “So that was an eye opener, that wow, an orgasm through touching above the injury… it’s amazing really…”

Others de-centred the orgasm or traditional gendered roles within their intimate practices all together, usually on the grounds that these rigid sexual norms just didn’t fit their embodiment (their experiences of their bodies). One couple decentered the orgasm because, they said, relentlessly ‘chasing’ it was becoming overwhelming. As such, they found that their closeness, intimacy and affection grew immeasurably once they had learned how to have a great sex life together without orgasm. Others explored how the spasticity of muscles (which can occur within any number of conditions, such as Cerebral Palsy and Spina Bifida) could enhance and their orgasms and enrich their experiences of pleasure.

Lucille: “I can’t feel any sensation that one would normally have but the way I feel does change in a way I can’t describe. Teamed with my imagination it can be very pleasant, makes me feel sexy.”

Others got great pleasure from being treated roughly, as a departure from the ways in which their bodies were (routinely) treated as though they were inherently breakable or fragile. Further, while many found that disability could mean a lack of spontaneity in sex (spontaneity, I add, which is depicted in every Hollywood sex scene ‘cos, apparently, sex needs zero discussion), they also said that planning made sex more enjoyable, and that it enabled the development of more elaborate and imaginative sex play.

For some, the presence of disability and bodily difference were a means to reject what disability scholar Tom Shakespeare (2000: 164) calls the ‘Cosmo conspiracy of great sex’. This is the (false) idea that all people are having incredible sex, all of the time – which just isn’t true. The sexual stories collected in my research showed that enjoyable sex isn’t natural, but takes work: open discussion with partners; understanding a partner’s likes and dislikes; lots of experimentation with sex and pleasure; and lots of work on the intimacy which can precede sex. While disability was the impetus for many of these intimate labours, these alternative sexual ways of being suggest that there is much to learn from disability when it comes to sex and intimacy.

To sum up a little, these experiences emphasize how crucial it is for disabled women – and all women and girls – to reclaim ‘sexy’ from the deeply oppressive ways in which it is proliferated and maintained in our cultures: a mode of sexuality that is considered “natural” but is, in reality, anything but, being routinely learned and relearned; taught, policed, and regulated throughout our lives.

Conclusions… I finish by asking, then, how can all of us strive to become shameless in our sexual lives? How can we rid ourselves of the shame that is often endemic to our experiences, lives and bodies, regardless of whether we – as women – live with disability, or not? The storied lives of disabled women in my research have shown this can only happen by sharing our stories, lives and experiences. Stories can – if voiced and heard – be productive, useful, and valuable. Stories can define a place and people. They offer a sense of collective experience; a means to claim space, foster a positive identities and experiences, and demand social and sexual justice. Collectively, telling and sharing our stories is how we can build sexual cultures and communities as we want them; ones which fit all of our bodies, pleasures and desires; ones which empower rather than oppress. So, what’s your sexual story?

Kirsty Liddiard PhD. is currently the Ethel Louise Armstrong Postdoctoral Fellow within the School of Disability Studies, Ryerson University, where she lectures and teaches on a range of disability issues. Kirsty considers herself a proud disabled woman and activist, critical disability theorist, and feminist. You can read her at kirsty.liddiard@ryerson.ca.

  1. This article uses the terms ‘disabled people’ and ‘disabled person’ rather than ‘people first’ terminology (‘people with disabilities’ or ‘person with a disability’). This reflects the position that disability, while part of identity, is not intrinsically embodied within the person, and is not individual or medical. Instead, disability is the sum of systemic, attitudinal, environmental, political, economic and cultural barriers within society.
  2. The asexual identity ascribed to disabled people is situated outside of the proud asexual identity chosen by the asexual community.
  3. LGBTQQI2-S: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, Queer, Intersex and 2-Spirit (LGBTQQI2-S) communities.
  4. All names have been changed.
  5. The term “dis/ableism” refers to the dual processes of disablism and ableism. Disablism is a form of direct discrimination or prejudice on the grounds of disability; ableism is a broader network of cultural beliefs whereby the non-disabled/”able” body and mind are the norm against which the value of all other bodies and minds are determined.
  6. The term crip has been reclaimed by many disabled people from the derogatory term “cripple”. Through Crip theory and Crip politics, the meaning of crip has become synonymous with resistance, pride, and non-normativity as a means of strength. I use crip as a verb, to refer to the process by which disability can fundamentally undermine the oppressive ideology of the norm, as well as to expose how “able-bodiedness” is naturalized (considered natural) and established.


• Canadian Women’s Foundation (2011) The Facts About Violence Against Women. Online. [Accessed 09.11.2013]. Available online here.

• Shakespeare, T. (2000) ‘Disabled Sexuality: Toward Rights and Recognition’, Sexuality and Disability, 18: 3, 159-166

Michelle Daley interviewed on disability and ethnicity on Vox Africa


We are very proud that one of the Sisters of Frida, Michelle Daley, was interviewed on STM (SHoot the Messenger) Vox Africa.

She spoke on being a disabled black woman in her community.

Michelle Daley

Michelle Daley (click on image for video)

We apologise for the lack of a transcript. If anybody can help with that please let us know.

Sexuality and Disability


We’re very happy to have a link to www.sexualityanddisability.org (via INWWD) , a website that starts with the premise that women who are disabled are sexual beings – just like any other woman.

It is a great resource – sexualityanddisability.org is brought to you by (CREA External Website that opens in a new window) and Point of View External Website that opens in a new window. Based in Delhi and New York, CREA is a feminist human rights organisation that promotes, protects and advances the sexual rights of all people; as part of its programs, it runs an online course on disability, gender and sexuality. Based in Mumbai, Point of View is a non-profit platform that brings the points of view of women into mutliple domains through media, art and culture.

We would recommend browsing the website.

sexualityanddisability.org is constructed as a bunch of questions a woman with a disability might have – about her body, about the mechanics and dynamics of having sex, about the complexities of being in an intimate relationship or having children, about unvoiced fears or experiences of encountering abuse in some form.

sexualityanddisability.org discusses a wide range of topics related to sexuality without shying away from them – parts of it are explicit. People have different views of what is and isn’t appropriate and we’ve included them all.

sexualityanddisability.org is accessible to people with disabilities; special features have been included to ensure this.

sexualityanddisability.org has been created with the active support of women with disabilities, disability rights activists, counselling professionals, and organizations working on disability. More and more women with disabilities are reclaiming their sexual selves, speaking out through blogs External Website that opens in a new windowfilms External Website that opens in a new windowbooks External Website that opens in a new windowperformances External Website that opens in a new window, websites External Website that opens in a new window and offline activism.

sexualityanddisability.org aims to provide women with disabilities and related constellations – partners, families, health workers, counsellors, organisations – a platform to explore this further.

Disability: the Cinderella of feminism?


Many thanks to Jane Osmond for this repost from Women’s Views in News. We have also reposted Philippa here before.

Today, I wrote an article about the appalling situation Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson found herself in recently when she had to throw her wheelchair onto a rail station platform and crawl after it.

I contacted Philippa of the feminist blog site the F-Word for her comments on this situation from her point of view as a disabled person: see WVoN post here.

During the conversation, we touched on disability as a feminist issue, something I had already come across in a blog post written by s.e.smith. Smith talks about ‘intersectionality – the idea that overlapping and interconnecting systems of oppression are involved pretty much anywhere you feel like looking’:

‘The short version of the reason that disability is a feminist issue is that some people with disabilities are women. I know, shocking! But I’m here to tell you that it’s true.’

This is something Philippa concurs with:

‘I think it is basically the fact that if it affects women it is a feminist issue.  Fundamentally, just like I think racism is a feminist issue because it affects women, feminism should be always advocating for people who are disadvantaged in one way or another.  It is about social justice really.’

Obvious, right?

Well, maybe not.

As Philippa says, although there are pockets of feminist spaces that try hard to be inclusive, there are also those that are not.  And this usually takes the form of a woman’s disability being seen as secondary:

‘Something that I have come across when I have tried to talk about disability in a feminist context is that disability can be seen as a “diversion” from proper feminist issues.

‘For example, if a disabled woman is attacked, talking about the disability aspect of the attack should not be seen as a diversion – it is a key part of what is happening.’

And, it seems, the biggest problem is also obvious – access. As someone with a minor knee disability I am hyper-sensitive to non-accessible places – lots of steps, long walks from public transport to venues and, as I get older, heavy doors that are difficult to open.

This also resonated with Philippa who said:

‘The other aspect is that in practical terms lots of feminist groups meet in upstairs rooms and pubs and, while I fully appreciated that they use those spaces because they may be free, and accessible spaces often cost, I also think this is increasingly unacceptable.

‘I think a feminist group that does not take accessibility into account is not only NOT representing lots of women, it is physically not letting lots of women in.’

This is a theme that is echoed in the blogosphere.  With this quote a Corkfeminista blogger with a disabled son, hits the nail firmly on the head:

‘I’d love to join everyone for an evening of story-sharing at the Metropole Hotel [to celebrate International Women’s Day] but I can’t, and why I can’t is part of my story…the story of disability as the Cinderella of feminism.’

Thinking that electronic communications could help address this for those who find it difficult to leave the house, I asked Philippa if, in her experience, e-comms were an adequate substitute for attending events in person:

‘Disabled people are doing some amazing campaign work online. What has been going on with Twitter in the disability community has been amazing: for example, it is really including people who might not be able to sit up in bed but can tweet.

‘The creativity I have seen in the online activism is brilliant. Also, a lot of the feminist conferences will have a hash tag, live tweeting and video-links which is good.’

However, Philippa does not feel that e-comms can replace the actual attendance at an event:

‘I don’t think “you can’t come but you can watch” is an acceptable compromise.’

And, for the Corkfeminista blogger, the pressures of disability caring means that there is ‘precious little time for online presence.’:

’80% of unpaid disability carers in Ireland who are women frequently remain isolated and unheard and the 20% who are men suffer the same fate for engaging in what State and society alike still consider to be low-status women’s work.’

So what can feminist groups do to address this?

Philippa suggests the following would be a place to start:

  1. When planning an event, build in the questions surrounding access right from the beginning
  2. Don’t assume you know what the issues are, ask disabled people themselves
  3. Include information about access in the press release for the event
  4.  If you are planning a march, perhaps offer a shorter version or a different meeting place.

An example of a well-planned conference is Intersect in Bristol on 19th May.

Beginning with an open debate entitled ‘How do we create a more inclusive feminism?’, the conference has been set up in response to feedback from groups who feel excluded from mainstream feminism.

And, in keeping with the theme of the conference, there is a dedicated accessibility page which outlines the following about the venue:

‘Hamilton House is fully wheelchair-accessible, with a ramp to the front door and internal lift. We are aiming to provide British Sign Language interpreters throughout the conference.

‘The conference will be live-streamed so that people who can’t attend may still watch and anyone watching online (or anyone at the conference who does not wish to speak publicly) may tweet questions to the speakers during the Q&A sessions.’


‘INTERSECT will be a safe space. This means it will be an event where everyone can feel welcome and respected.

‘No form of discrimination will be tolerated and may result in your removal from the conference.

‘Do not use aggressive, disrespectful, oppressive or exclusionary language.

‘If you disagree with someone’s ideas, do not attack them personally.

‘Be mindful of people’s personal and emotional boundaries.

‘Be aware of the privileges you possess and listen to people with other perspectives.’

Today I have written about only two issues in relation to disability and feminism, but there are many more.

As Philippa points out – how much more difficult it must be to escape domestic violence if the abuser is also a carer and could withhold meds, and communicating with an outside agency is difficult due to deafness, for example.

Then there are refuges not being accessible, the impossibility of fighting back against rape if you are unable to move without pain, difficulties attending healthcare appointments, the list goes on and on.

But in essence – how much more difficult just to be HEARD when you have a disability that makes accessing mainstream events and communications difficult.

Surely, as feminists, we owe it to our disabled sisters to make sure that not only are their voices heard, but that their physical presence is encouraged?  Only then can we call ourselves a truly intersectional movement.