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disabled and sexual Essays opinion

Disabled and Sexual: The Met Police Guidance on Women’s Safety is Useless to Disabled Women

TW:  This article discusses sexual violence, domestic abuse and abuse towards women and femmes, in particular disabled women and femmes. It also mentions police misconduct as well as the murders of Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa. Please practice self-care. 


Disabled and Sexual is a monthly(-ish) column by Hannah Shewan Stevens which will explore all the challenges, comedy, and fun that disabled people experience as sexual beings, even while we are desexualised by a predominantly non-disabled society.


This month, the Metropolitan police’s misguided advice on women’s safety, reminded every woman and femme of the inescapable knowledge we live with daily: none of us are safe.

The Met advised anyone concerned about being approached by a lone male police officer to ring 999, “shout out to a passerby, run into a house or wave a bus down” for help. It also suggested quizzing the officer on their reasons for the stop. 

In the wake of the trial of Sarah Everard’s killer and the murder of Sabina Nessa, the police’s PR face has been an undeniable mess but for disabled folks, the latest advice felt particularly ignorant and exclusionary. 

A blind person cannot easily flag down a bus for help, a wheelchair user may not be able to run for their life and a non-verbal person is incapable of quizzing a police officer. 

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Why Being a Disabled Freelancer on Universal Credit is a Double-Edged Sword

I’ve been on a mixture of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Universal Credit since I was 17 years old, due to my disability limiting my ability to work. Both are a benefit that can support people who are unable to work, or unable to work full-time hours.

I was never able to get a Saturday job like my friends due to my disabilities, nor attend university. So at a young age I quickly found myself with very few options – and a family unable to support me financially. 

At that age, I had no idea that accessible work options even existed, so I truly believed that I would never find a job that I could do.

Being able to sit here today and say I have found accessible employment, that I can do whilst receiving Universal Credit, a vital safety net, is amazing. But, it’s also a double-edged sword and not the life-changing moment I’d hoped it would be. 

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all opinion Pain chronicles

Pain Chronicles: Being Fat Isn’t a Disability, but Society’s Attitude to it Can be

Pain Chronicles is a monthly(-ish) column from Caroline McDonagh-Delves about coming to terms with living with a chronic illness. It will include funny stories and brutal honesty, with some thrown in chats with her mum Shaz, and other friends too, along the way. 


For her 50th birthday, I took my mum to see Matilda in the Palace Theatre in Manchester. We were all the way up in the heavens – having to pay £2 for the tiny binoculars fancy women have on sticks in films set in the early 20th Century. But we didn’t let that stop us having the time of our lives.

Before booking, I’d scoured the access information on their website (which was, and still is, limited). I knew the lift went to the rear circle and there would be almost no steps for our back row seats. I knew they had a disabled toilet.

What I didn’t have is much information on the seats themselves.

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Abortion is a Disability Rights Issue – and Not Just Because of Eugenics

TW: Abortion, eugenics, sexual assault/rape.


Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last week or so, you’ll have heard about Texas’s bill banning abortion after the sixth week of pregnancy – before most people even know they’re pregnant. If you don’t live on Twitter, though, you may have missed eugenics creeping into the debate.

A tweet from Richard Hanania of the Centre for the Study of Partisanship and Ideology points out that you generally can’t screen for Down’s syndrome before about week 10 (the NHS says you can screen for it and Edwards’ and Patau’s syndrome between weeks 10 and 14), and that lots of those who find out their child may have Down’s choose not to continue with their pregnancies. 

His point appears to be that Texas (and potentially other red states) may see an increase in babies born with Downs, and he also asks if liberals will be happy about governmental spending if costs are increased for this.

He dubbed his thread “interesting things to think about”, but the heavily eugenic-based point wasn’t exactly the progressive ‘gotcha’ he was probably aiming for.

Abortion is very much a disability rights issue, but not for this reason.

Being pregnant can be very hard on the body. I’ve not done it myself, but you only need to ask a group of parents for their horror stories and then you’ll also probably never want to do it.

As someone living in a body which generally malfunctions while I’m not doing something as taxing as growing a human, I don’t want to give it another reason to break down.

This isn’t to say all disabled people think the same. My own mother was disabled when she had me and my brother – something that it was her choice to do.

But her choice was also important when it came to what happened next. She was told that if she carried another pregnancy to term, she’d end up having to use a wheelchair full time – not that there’s anything wrong with that, but she thought it would be a burden felt unfairly by her children.

So she went for sterilisation – which the doctors did try to talk her out of for generally sexist reasons – but she maintains a pro-choice stance for herself and others in relation to abortion too. She says: “The doctor that did my sterilisation did a bunch of others that failed and I was sh*tting myself. I would absolutely have had an abortion.”

We need to factor in treatments here as well. For arthritis, my mum now takes methotrexate – a drug so potentially harmful to a foetus that the pharmacy do everything to avoid cross-contamination and it’s advised “women of childbearing age do not handle it at all” (specific wording from my friend who works in a pharmacy). 

Since the thalidomide scandal, doctors have been very conscious with medication and pregnancy (my medications carry general advisories as obviously research into specific effects wouldn’t pass an ethics committee).

There are a lot of medications that are considered abortifacient (a substance used to induce an abortion or miscarriage) or to cause birth defects.

Disabled people who want to get pregnant face having to weigh up if they are able to stop their medication for a year or more – but imagine finding you’re forced to do so. 

Some among you will now be crying “you’ve got 6 weeks to sort it out”, but let me explain just how little time you actually have.

Pregnancy is counted from the first day of your last menstrual period, so – assuming a 28 day cycle – you’re already 2 weeks pregnant the day that sperm and egg meet.

12-14 days later is when your expected period doesn’t arrive, so you’ve hit 2/3rds of the limit before you even have an inkling you could be pregnant (although you may have had some symptoms sooner).

This also assumes a regular menstrual cycle. If you have PCOS, irregular periods, perimenopause or take a contraceptive pill that stops your periods (like I do) then you’re even less likely to find out so early.

A condition such as endometriosis or side effects of pretty much any medication could mask pregnancy symptoms.

If you’re one of those who thinks “well, close your legs then”, first of all: why are you here? We’re not for you.

But also be aware of the sexual assault epidemic in disabled women – the bill makes no allowances for rape, assault or incest; not that enduring a trauma should be a necessary condition for abortion anyway.

In those of us choosing to have sex (and why shouldn’t we?) pregnancy is not a punishment for this. I can’t believe I still have to say that.

The specific location of this bill is also a disability issue. It is, of course, possible to travel out of state for your abortion – the only option for many Texans now, it seems – the same as Liverpool is a hub for abortions off the ferry from Ireland (less so since repealing the 8th, but Northern Ireland still prohibits abortion). 

Not even allowing for the fact that disabled people are more likely to live in poverty and have less money for travel and potential accommodation – have you tried travelling when disabled?

I generally have to plan rest days if I’m travelling from Liverpool to London – nowhere near the journeys some Texans are facing – and I don’t have the added stress of an abortion on top.

The cost, the strain, and the potential for damage to mobility aids (if someone has to fly) are all factors for disabled people.

Abortion is a disability rights issue – but not for the eugenic reason being floated on Twitter. A judge has blocked suing of Planned Parenthood under the bill for now, but it’s not enough.

We must preserve abortion access for everyone who wants it (and reverse the Texas law if possible), and also specifically for disabled people who want it. 


Places to get information:

Amnesty International Abortion Information

NHS Abortion Information

Planned Parenthood Abortion Information

How to get help with transport and accommodation etc. (please donate if you can):

Fund Texas Choice – for those in Texas 

Abortion Support Network – for those in Ireland, the Isle of Man, Malta, Gibralta and Poland 

If you’ve been a victim of rape or sexual assault:

Rape Crisis (UK)

RAINN (USA)

Rape Crisis Network Europe

International Rape Crisis Information


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What Happens if You’re too Broken for the NHS?

By all accounts, a lot of the stigma that once existed around mental health has been eroded. Studies show that people’s knowledge of and attitude towards mental health issues has significantly improved in the past decade, with a Time to Change survey reporting that since 2007, 4.1 million people have improved attitudes towards mental health. So, these days, it is a lot easier to open up about your mental health.

But it’s not enough.

We’re sold this story of everything getting better if we only just speak up -– like the only thing holding us back from recovery is ourselves – but the reality is a lot more complicated than that. A lot of public discourse emphasises how so many people with mental health issues are ‘suffering in silence’ and that if they only reached out to get help, everything and everyone would be rosy. But that’s not the case.

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No Spectrum 10k, Autistic People Don’t Want to Know the Cause and We Don’t Need to be Cured

Trigger warning – This article discusses eugenics in relation to finding a “cure” for ableism.


This week, we saw the launch of Spectrum 10K – a project aiming to gain DNA samples from 10,000 autistic people and their families to examine our genetics, to see how our experiences “shape our wellbeing”. It aims to be the largest study done, but after its launch by celebrities such as Paddy McGuiness in the media completely uncriticised, it has quickly raised alarm bells across the autistic community. 

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Environmental Activism is Ableist. Here’s What we Need to do About That

Intersectionality has been one of the buzzwords we have seen a lot of lately, especially when it comes to activism. Sometimes criticised as a product of the ‘woke brigade’, the idea is to be as inclusive of different demographics when it comes to taking up a cause. What is not always discussed, however, is how environmental activism lacks inclusion for disabled people – to the point of ableism. 

Cultural conversations have centred around the subject of banning disposable items, including plastic bags, straws and cotton buds. According to the BBC, the delay in the UK for banning single-use plastic straws and cotton buds was due to the pandemic – but points out that they are still available if disabled or for other medical needs.

Alternative replacements are not inclusive or even accessible. To ‘just ask’ for a plastic straw in an outside setting is beside the point – because you should not have to justify yourself, and to verbally ask is not necessarily something you can ‘just do’. Metal straws have the potential to cause injury, such as in the case of Elena Struthers-Gardner. Rubber straws, some Autistic people have reported, also leave an odd taste in your mouth, which is incongruous to sensory issues. Yet plastic straws enable drinking independently.  However, paper and metal replacements can pose safety issues when consuming hot drinks. (Source.) 

Karl Knights is an Autistic writer who also has Cerebral Palsy. He said:  “Too often, activists will effectively shame disabled people for just existing – for example, the amount of disabled people who have been berated for using a straw that’s most accessible to them. Disabled people know what our carbon footprints are.” 

As an Autistic person, it took me a long time to find what worked with me. The pandemic left me not wanting to touch any cutlery and glasses outside my own home – with the taste of rubber becoming a begrudged cost of staying safe in the pandemic. But this is not something everyone can just ‘deal with’, and can be distressing. 

Sarah King recently wrote for Refinery 29 about a divide within the Veganism movement – and how language had been utilised to support shock tactics. This is arguably a niche with environmentalism activism at its core, enough so that people such as Greta Thunberg have endorsed such practices. The piece also pointed to trauma appropriation, as well as triggering language being deliberately used.

Dietary advice does not necessarily take into account disability needs. As an Autistic person, the food that I eat is very limited owing to sensory issues. Pre-preparation is also a much-needed part of my life; this can give way to excessive packaging. Other individuals use disposable cutlery, just as a way to manage as well. Yet I have been shamed with inaccurate diet advice which advocated consuming food/drink I cannot/will not even go near, complete with language suggesting my needs were something that could just be ‘switched off’. 

No one has the right to impose beliefs on you – such as dietary advice – unless it is medically advisable, such as via your Doctor or GP. Period. But that is not to say you cannot raise awareness. 

Elizabeth Wright is the editor of Conscious Being magazine – and has previously written about this exact subject.  She said that “It is imperative that we have a seat at the table, if we don’t  climate solutions will continue to be inaccessible and lead to further exclusion of disabled people at all levels of society.”

Chloe Tear is an award-winning disability blogger, and is a content designer at Scope. She agreed and said “Supporting the environment isn’t an ‘all or nothing’ problem, yet people are shamed for not doing enough. We need to open up the conversation and discuss things like access needs and financial constraints. Doing something is better than nothing. We shouldn’t be made to feel guilty for working within our own constraints.”

Activism needs to be intersectional, with the onus on the collective and not the individual. In all of the people interviewed for this piece, all remarked on feeling shamed or having been shamed because of their needs. Why would anyone seek to be environmentally friendly while disabled, if they are made to feel that way?

A symptom of privilege is that the onus is on an individual who may not necessarily be able to comply with such high expectations and to be shamed for something outside of your control will not be effective, and is indirectly ableist. 

Consultation and accessible alternatives are the way to go. Essentially, remember that disabled people aren’t the enemy here.

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‘Lacking in transparency, ethics, and compassion’: NICE pauses publication of ME guidelines

When NICE paused publication of the new ME guidelines this week it rocked the community that lived with the condition. Danielle Watts discusses why the harmful treatments some professionals are opposed to cutting out can’t be allowed to continue.

When Daniel Moore was a child he developed myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME). At the time ME was often described as ‘yuppie flu’, thought mainly to affect the middle-classes and to be a symptom of laziness rather than any serious illness.

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Why the Channel 4 Paralympics Advertising is Angering Disabled People

I’ve always had mixed feelings about the Paralympics. On the one hand it does give elite disabled sportspeople a platform and raises awareness, but on the other the coverage is often surrounded by a lot of inspiration and trauma porn.

That for me can put a dampener on the whole proceedings, so when I heard that Channel 4 had set out its most ambitious ever Paralympic plans I was excited. With an over 70% disabled presenting team, live subtitles, audio describing and sign language it sounded like a real effort was being made to break the mould.

However the advertising campaign has let it down.

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Conversations Around Poverty Need to Include Disabled People

The coronavirus pandemic has shone a light on the many inequalities people face in the UK including living in poverty. As of February this year, a Social Market Foundation report found that 42% of families who rely on disability allowance are living in poverty due to a lack of government support and their catastrophic failure to protect the most vulnerable during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Poverty can be categorised into social, economic and political factors that mean people are left without their basic needs being met. So why exactly are disabled people disproportionately affected?

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