For Disability History Month, the Diversity Digest is featuring two not one, but blogs! Our first comes from your regular writer, D&I Director, Sarah Guerra, and we’re also featuring a special guest blog on Everyday Ableism from Barry Hayward, Deputy Head of Student Disability at King’s Disability Advisory Service.

Laura Bates started up Everyday Sexism to record the day-to-day experiences of exclusion and discrimination faced by women and and it occurs to me that there is everyday exclusion under every “ism” you can think of. My aim here is to highlight some of the everyday discrimination, or ableism, faced by disabled people and I invite others to share their experiences to throw a light on this area.

May I start by acknowledging that we have come a long way in the last ten years or so and it could be argued that universities have been at the forefront of inclusive practice, especially around disability.

Ten years ago, the number of students who would disclose to a university that they had a disability was around 7%. Now that figure is closer to 15% of students declaring a disability. It was not uncommon ten years ago for universities to state that it is not recommended that a student study there if you use a wheelchair due to the inaccessibility of their buildings.

Following the extension of the Disability Discrimination Act to apply to universities in 2003 as part of the enactment of the Equality Act in 2010, the right of disabled people to an equal education has become a reality but, exclusion around disability still exists and like sexism and racism it is now commonly carried out in much more subtle and indirect ways. Methods that are much harder to challenge than overt discrimination or abuse.

I’m sure you’ve all heard some of these phrases before:

“We are all disabled in some way aren’t we?”

Heard that one? This really rankles if you have plucked up the courage to reveal an impairment or health condition in the hope you might negotiate some accommodations at work. What this really means is “I don’t take this as a serious issue”

“I don’t need to use a microphone”

You may think that but some of us can’t hear unless amplification is used

“Cheer up, it might never happen”

How do you know it hasn’t already happened?

“Can you take minutes of this meeting?”

Dyslexic staff asked this on the spot will be challenged. Advance warning would mean they could record the meeting (or seek a reasonable adjustment).

These examples may seem minor and that’s the point really. There’s no malice intended, but a lack of thought can be very damaging to the recipient of such careless talk.

I could go further and discuss issues such as asking for reasonable adjustments and getting a furrowed brow in response (not a “no”, but not an overwhelming “of course”) but I thought I’d start with these examples. Please comment if you have similar experiences to share.

Barry Hayward, Deputy Head of Student Disability at King’s Disability Advisory Service.