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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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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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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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Simone Biles is Not a Wimp. She’s a Woman Prioritising Her Mental Health, and I Respect That

TW: this article mentions of sexual abuse, in particular the abuses carried out by Larry Nassar against gymnasts.  


Simone Biles deserves a gold medal in courage. 

When she stepped away from the Olympics all-around event and decided not to compete, that took a huge amount of guts. But it’s no surprise she’s become a pro at being brave in the face of overwhelming stress. She’s had to, given her past. As the last gymnast abused by Larry Nassar (the prior doctor for the United States women’s national gymnastics) team still performing, she has been forced to deal with her ongoing personal trauma in front of the media.

 When the word came that “medical issues” were the reasons for her withdrawal, most people assumed them to be physical—an injury to her body, perhaps. That it takes society a beat or two to realize that mental health concerns are equally important, and also a potential medical issue, says something about how far we still have to go when it comes to awareness and compassion. 

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Making Space For Disabled Freelancers Is More Important Than Ever Before

In this sponsored post, co-founder of The Disability Collab Lydia Wilkins discusses how disabled freelancers are often left out of journalism and how they plan to change that.


“Just communicate better.” “You should be more sociable.” “You’re not disabled – you can talk to me!” “You’re, like, so inspiring for all that you do!” “Can you grow your arms back?” “Disability isn’t part of our diversity strategy, not this year at least.” *Ghosts your job interview on mentioning of a disability* 

If you’re a disabled person who’s tried to work a conventional office job, you’ve probably experienced comments like this – comments which can wear you down over time, on a very surface level. 

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The National Disability Strategy Ignores Those With Energy Limiting Chronic Illnesses

Like many other disabled and chronically ill people, reading the new National Disability Strategy released by the government yesterday left me feeling a little underwhelmed. 

I live with Hypermobility Spectrum Disorder, a connective tissue disorder that is also classified as an Energy Limiting Chronic Illness (ELCI). The Chronic Illness Inclusion Project says that an illness is considered an ELCI if it “[has] energy impairment as a key feature”. 

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Tech Companies: Focus on fixing the Infrastructure, not Disability

It’s like an ableist version of Groundhog Day. Except instead of Bill Murray as a disgruntled weatherman, it’s a young spectacled 20-something in a chequered shirt telling you how the seventh pair of sign language gloves “really is the one this time, folks!”

And if it’s not sign language gloves, then it’s wheelchairs which can make its user stand up or, more recently, vibrating shoes for the blind and visually impaired. Every day tech companies leave us spoilt for choice when it comes to accessible technology we actually don’t need – or want.

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