The Gimpled Table of Microaggressions

We sometimes 'discover' concepts and words and ideas that are transplant-able from one 'sector' to another, and here's a magnificent example.

There's a really cool project called 'The MicroAggression Project', where a photographer named Kiyun asked her friends to 'write down an instance of racial microaggression they have faced.'

The term 'microaggression' was used by Columbia professor Derald Sue to refer to 'brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color.' Sue borrowed the term from psychiatrist Dr. Chester Pierce who coined the term in the ’70s.

If you're disabled, you'll look at the project and shout 'yes!' I don't know too many people this wouldn't resonate with...I can think of hundreds of microaggressions that people with disability hear and experience every day.

They're so subtle, and it makes no sense at all (to most people) why they hurt so much.

Microaggressions have been defined as “the everyday slights, indignities, put downs and insults that people of color, women, LGBT populations or those who are marginalized experience in their day-to-day interactions with people. Microaggressions often times appear to be a compliment but contain a metacommunication or hidden insult to the target groups in which it is delivered.”

If you're disabled, you've no doubt been described as 'brave' or 'inspirational' a hundred times, especially if you are blind or Deaf or have a physical disability. If you have an intellectual disability, people will be surprised when you do something well or say something clever. Then there's the surprise that you have a job, that you have children, that you are a valued member of a group - followed by a cheery 'good for you'.

There are even subtler slights. Here's a good example.

We asked for an information pack from the school that my son is enrolling in, and this is what came home (via another boy). My lad, who is sixteen, said, 'If I was Aboriginal, would it have said 'Jake, 0400 890 571, Aboriginal?'

I can think of ten, twenty, a hundred more. The stolen, transplant-able terms - microaggressions, which are defined above. Microassaults, an explicit derogation characterised by an attack meant to hurt the intended victim through name calling, avoidant behaviour or purposeful discriminatory actions. And microinvalidation, characterised by communications that exclude, negate or nullify the psychological thoughts, feelings or experiential reality of a person. (You can read more here.)

I'd love to replicate this project for the disability sector, through the Disability Clothesline project. I can think of a bunch of the microaggressions I have experienced that have dented my thinking and impacted upon my psyche in a bunch of negative ways. And that is only over the past two years - the time that I have been using a wheelchair.

So, froods, don't be surprised if I suddenly snap at you when you ask me 'what happened to you?' in the first three seconds of a conversation - if you're a bloke, I'll probably ask if you're circumcised. If you're surprised that I have children, I won't be happy. And if you, like another rude young man this week, ask me if 'I like to fuck' - followed up by 'do cripples like to fuck?' - don't be surprised if the response you get isn't fit for general publication.

Here's the big question - how do we change the way people think about people with disability?

Text description - Image 1: A young Asian woman holds a sign saying 'No, where are you REALLY from?' Image 2: A folder from Northam Senior High School with a post it note which reads 'Jake Connor, 0400 890 571, Autism Spectrum Disorder' Image 3: Sign - she introduced me to the manager and he said 'we used to have a woman who used a wheelchair on our board once, she was great'. Image 4: Sign - What happened to you? Image 5: Oh, you have children? Good for you.


  1. And ill reply and say yeah .. It made me deaf :-D

  2. I love this post!

    How could we amend the second point in the table of microagressions so that it would also include people with intellectual disabilities? I can't help but get the (I'm sure unintentional) sense that 'traditional intelligence' matters in a way understood by people not accepting/ inclusive of intellectual disabilities. This to say that I know you get it (I do, a fellow Down Syndrome Upriser to another :-) ), i'm just wary of how other people will perceive this point. I'm not sure I'm explaining well?

  3. I get the micro-aggression stuff. I have probably been guilty of some of it on occasion, and I appreciate having it explained so I can see from another's shoes. For example I have definitely said "good on you" to parents who are disabled, but I say it to able-bodied parents too. I say it because I hate the way people think they can tell you what's wrong with your kid, or assume your kid is having a tanty due to your bad parenting - when in fact it is due to your boundary-setting in an environment designed to be highly enticing.

    I get it because I have an invisible disability - I have a couple of serious mental illnesses (and yes I'm also a parent :) ). I had a guy employed at our local MH community provider say to me in an art class "you're really good with the others, more like a 'worker' ". Presumably because I try to be affirming of others where I can be (ie genuinely appreciative of work I like), but I don't BS them either (if I don't like it I say nothing unless asked, then I'm honest). The message was a) surprise that someone with MI is able to be positive/affirming, b) workers are better than clients, c) you're almost good enough to be "one of us". Is this a compliment? I don't think.

    Thanks again for your articulate, insightful and incisive posts!

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