What the …?


And you’re from what part of the Dark Ages?

So yes, this topic draws out my sarcastic side. But really, these statements are STILL being said.

This week Jessica Kramer, guest blogger and disabilities studies student, is back with her final post before graduation. She breaks down what’s behind this thinking that there’s a certain “disabled” look. 

Language surrounding disability always seems problematic. Preferably, it should be empowering and affirming in a way that honors ALL abilities. Often the most devaluing and discouraging language comes from people who think they’re offering a compliment.

“I do not think of you as disabled.” 

This seven word phrase has many underlining assumptions like what disability looks like and how those with disabilities should act.  Oh, there we go with our assumptions again! They really can get us in a bit of trouble. Here’s a quick rundown of what underlies these assumptions: 

Stereotypical Wheelchair Guy

Mostly when told I’m not thought of as disabled it comes from individuals that may only think of disability I one particular way: stereotypical wheelchair guy. And by the way, why is it always a guy? Females don’t use wheelchairs?

Yes, disability is often represented using a wheelchair with the Americans with Disabilities Act, parking symbol or the accessible bathroom sign.  How disability is symbolized, wheelchair users, becomes the image all disabled people assumed to look like. For people like myself who do not use mobility devices, our appearance is not automatically linked to the disability label. 


This is the assumption that bothers me the most. I am very proud and vocal about my disability identity and when people do not “see me as disabled” they so not see me. I am all of my identities including disabled. Ignoring one identity is ignoring a part of me. It also reinforces the idea that I should be ashamed because a disability is assumed to be unwanted and therefore, should be concealed.

Disability is “Bad”

The most important assumption made when people use this phrase is that it is a compliment to be mistaken for able-bodied.  Those who can “pass” as able-bodied are granted the privileges that come with it, like not having the legacy of institutionalization, sterilization, and marginalization of the disabled identity. 

Anytime I have heard the phrase “I don’t think of you as disabled” it is when I have achieved something. It is assumed (there we go again!) that ahievement goes against the expectations of being disabled.  People are really saying there is a narrow definition of how a disabled person looks and acts, and since it does not include me, I should be grateful. 

This phrase further marginalizes those that do have the stereotypical disabled body. It makes the absence of the “disabled look” a compliment, the ideal all should strive for. Idealizing able-bodiedness is perpetuating the oppression of disability. Thinking of someone who identifies as disabled as able-bodied is another way of illustrating the “wrongness” of a body living with difference.

“I don’t think of you as disabled,” intended as a compliment. In reality, though, reinforcing the false assumption that disability is the problem.

You know I’ll be live tomorrow at 3pm (different time) to chat about this. Please join me with your own take on this.

Please join me in congratulating Jessica as she receives her Master’s degree in Disability Studies next month. To check out Jessica’s other posts, go to Duct Tape Won’t Help This, When People We Love Want to Cure Us, and Should I Tell?