For many years, I took the bus through some of the worst parts of town around 4 in the morning to get to work. I traveled alone, because I had to.
I have some pretty frightening stories from that time in my life, but once I got a new job and moved to a new place, it just kept happening.
It didn’t get better.
There was one neighbor who tried grabbing me every time we saw each other. There was another who followed me whenever he saw me around the neighborhood. There was yet another who waited for me on the front steps in the morning when I left for work. Creepy, scary, gross, you pick the word.
Even on my way home, guys wouldn’t leave me alone. One guy got angry at me when I told him I was married, because I was wearing gloves in the middle of winter and he couldn’t see my ring. Another regularly pulled over to try convincing me to have an affair with him, because he wasn’t happy in his marriage.
There are more, worse experiences, too. They all stem from the mistaken idea that because I happen to be female and leave the house alone that I’m open to their advances. However, they don’t have much to do with my neurology or any disability.
Why does disability make it worse?
During one of the twitter chats I take part in, one of the young women who has severely decreased vision commented that she now carries a taser with her, because she’s not safe in her own neighborhood. It’s not any sort of paranoia on her part either, this course of action is spurred by experiences she’s had first hand.
Sadly, she’s not alone. Women with disabilities are more susceptible to violence and crime than those without. Part of that has to do with the simple fact that visible and certain sensory disabilities make a woman more noticeable. Another part is that men who harass or attack women are more likely to go after “good victims” than those who look like fighters.
Bear in mind, that’s not a hard and fast rule, but it is a general truth. I occasionally need to wear wrist braces for tendinitis and carpal tunnel syndrome in public. When I wear them, I can be expected to be singled out more often than when I don’t.
Those braces are outward signs of an otherwise invisible disorder. They show I’m physically weaker and already in pain at that time, and those with ill intent will try using that to their advantage. People aren’t all bad, men included, but it’s hard to trust a stranger when you don’t know their motives.
Where’s the Research?
It’s notoriously hard to find statistics on crime against anyone with disabilities, especially when you try breaking it down by gender, but I did find this article from The Guardian. It says Australian women with disabilities are 40% more likely than non-disabled women to be victims of domestic violence, and over 70% of them experience violent sexual encounters in their lifetimes.
There just isn’t much literature available geared towards women with disabilities. Womenshealth.gov has a dedicated page, but even the World Health Organization lumps disabled people into “adults” or “children”. Gender doesn’t play into the language, despite the fact it makes a huge difference.
I haven’t found any information about the difference race or income make, either, but if the general patterns hold true lower income and disabled women of color likely face the highest risk of violence. That’s just speculation on my part, though, because I couldn’t find the statistics.
Part of the problem stems from the dehumanization people with disabilities continually experience in the broader picture. The mainstream population can’t seem to see past the differences to the person who copes with them.
Let’s Be More Inclusive in Civil Rights.
In feminist discussions, disability rarely comes up. Intersection of race, income, body type, sexual orientation and sometimes religion are represented, but ability level is almost always ignored.
However, women with disabilities are still women, and they face the same types of discrimination non-disabled women face, though often to a greater degree. That means the harassment stories I shared at the beginning of this entry could have graduated into something more serious if I had a visible disability at the time.
As hard as it is for an able-bodied woman to get authorities or medical professionals to listen to them, it can be twice as hard as a woman with a disability. Those in authority often labor under misconceptions borne of stereotypes and toxic cultural norms.
This must change, and it must happen outside of the relatively small circle of disability rights activists.
All types of disability must be included in conversations about women’s rights, race and income, because it is a factor in all of those things.
Disabled bodies of all types must be included in discussions of body positivity, because people with disabilities should be allowed see the beauty in their bodies just as much as able bodied people.
Diverse disabled characters must be portrayed honestly in the media, because we are more than what our culture sees as “wrong” or “inspirational”. I’ll add that we need far more female and non-binary disabled characters, because the representation that does exist is usually only of boys and men.
Diverse disabled people must be allowed parts in advertisement, because we do have money to spend and business will benefit from our patronage.
|Ambassador Caroline Kennedy and Advisor for International Disability Rights Judith Heumann|
People with all sorts of ability levels must be allowed in all levels of the professional world, because we see the world differently enough to provide valuable insight into how to create a better life for this and future generations.
I can only work towards a better world with the power I have. Hopefully, people in more influential positions than mine take these concepts to heart. Even if you’re not well off financially, famous or otherwise high profile, you can find ways to support the disability community in your own ways.
All I ask is you join me in making positive change.