“Creating room for disability in the discussions of equity: microaggressions”, by Jessica Keogh, M. Ed

The intent of this post is to educate, widen your perspective, and begin to make room for disability in equity discussions.

Over the past week, I’ve had the privilege to attend a couple of professional development opportunities which focused on equity, resilience, and learning the English language. Each one of these sessions was incredible, and I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to learn from such passionate people!

When I’m presented with such information, I always look at it from my perspective, as an adult woman with a physical disability. I often feel that disability is left out of a lot of discussions, so I’m sharing my truth and my perspective with you here, please do not be offended.

Microaggressions can be defined as intentional or unintentional statements, body language or actions which discriminate against a marginalized group such as a racial or ethnic minority. It’s important to know that some common language are actually microaggressions, and when they are used, they often make the person who is in the minority feel negatively. I don’t ever want any person I come across to feel negatively because of something I said or did, and I’m sure most of you don’t either.

As I learned more about microaggressions, I thought of some of the ones I heard just that day.

  • ●  “You’re dangerous in that thing (wheelchair).”
  • ●  “I don’t have time for this.”
  • ●  “Can you get a speeding ticket in that?”
  • ●  “There’s another one of you (people in wheelchairs) in the train car.”

Now, I have pretty thick skin, and I try not to let many things bother me, but some days it’s hard. Sometimes I have to think, would someone say or do that if I wasn’t in a wheelchair, and the answer is probably not.

I then thought of other comments I’ve heard in the past week:

  • ●  “What happened to you?”
  • ●  “When I look at you, I don’t see disability.”
  • ●  “That experience was crippling.”
  • ●  “I’d rather just be offed if I ever became disabled, I couldn’t deal.”Here’s the message I get when you say or do some of these things.Microaggression Message


What happened to you?

You’re not normal. Something must have happened to make you disabled.


That experience was crippling.

I’d rather just be offed if I became disabled. You look so healthy.

Having a disability is horrible.

A life with a disability is not worth living.
All people with disabilities are sick and weak.

When I look at you, I don’t see disability.

Denying a person’s experiences as someone who is disabled. The first things you notice about people are gender, skin color, and disability.


You’re a credit to people with disabilities.

Can you say tokenism? People with disabilities aren’t usually so ambitious.

You look so normal.

People with disabilities are something other then normal.

One of you

All people with disabilities are the same, grouped into the same strange species.

Can you get a speeding ticket in that thing?

People with disabilities don’t work or have a place to be.

It’s a shame because you’re so pretty.

People with disabilities are not beautiful.

Watch out

People in wheelchairs don’t know how to roll and are dangerous.


People with disabilities even have hearing problems, they are all the same.

Speaking r-e-a-l-l-y slowly

People with disabilities are not as intelligent or with it.

Leaning on my wheelchair

You’re personal space isn’t important.


Can you do that? How are you going to do that?

You’re assuming that disability means inability.

Does she want…? How old is he?

You’re assuming that the person with a disability can’t speak for themselves.

Excessively high fiving at a bar

It’s so great to see you out; props to you for getting out the house. People with disabilities don’t usually get out.

It’s so nice that you took him/her out.

Ignoring that the person with the disability is my best friend or *gasp* significant other. Implying that you’re a saint for going out with him/her.

Now, I’ve heard and experienced each one of these and numerous others multiple times in my 29 years of life. No I’m not looking for your pity, I’m just sharing the microaggressions people who are part of the disabled community experience. Let’s make disability part of the equity discussion.

What can you do? The call to action

I think the most important and meaningful thing you can do is get to know the person with a disability before assuming. We are some of the most resilient and creative problem solvers because, well, we’ve had to be.

Be mindful when you speak. You are going to make mistakes, and that’s ok; give yourself grace. The more you learn, the more you know and grow into a more inclusive human.

Educate, have hard conversations, read books (even with children), and make disability part of the equity conversation. Afterall, disability is the largest minority group and one in which anyone can become a part of at any time.

To learn more or ask a question , feel free to contact Jessica Keogh at


Jessica Keogh, M. Ed resides in West Chester, Pennsylvania where she teaches students who have difficulty regulating their emotions. Being born with a yet to be diagnosed type of Muscular Dystrophy, Jessica has dedicated her life to educating, advocating, and empowering people with disabilities (and those with out) so they can live their most empowered lives! Jessica has done this through the way she lives, teaches, and advocates for meaningful policy change for people with disabilities.  She is currently pursuing her doctorate in educational policy, leadership, and administration, and once she earns her degree, she will write policies that help all children. Jessica is also the CEO and founder of Faith Above my Ability, a nonprofit organization geared towards empowering people of all abilities.

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