Gay-ness, lesbian-ness, “queer”-ness…. and disability.
These phenomena overlap, in the person of at least 5.3
million people in the U.S. And 80% of everyone will
experience at least one disability, at some point in their
But the two general population categories intersect, less, in
the LGBTQ activist sphere. And even less in what I’ve
seen of the LGBTQ academic world, and in popular
“liberation” or “rights” writing.
“Disability” is either “not on the radar screen” at all, or is
occasionally something that gets tacked on to the end of a
long summary list of concerns, usually to be soon
People with disabilities (PWD’s) still encounter
non-disabled people openly justifying discrimination, even
“to their faces”….. if not saying even worse things.
Reporter John Hockenberry (using a wheelchair) once took
his seat on a plane, and was immediately asked by the
stewardess if he’d ever thought of suicide.
Non-disabled people still often think that letting a disabled
person into an activity or building or public
accommodation (or removing a barrier, to allow such
access) is in the category of a “personal favor”, rather than
being a Human Right.
The overlap of non-heterosexuality and stigmatised
disability “should” be enough, to get PWD’s recognised as
part of the LGBTQ world’s diversity. For example, any
collection of narratives that includes no people with
disabilities, is obviously missing distinct POV stories
like: “It wasn’t easy to find where I fit into the queer
communities, because more than half of the places they
gather are places with physical barriers to my entry.”
Though the overlap of these two general population
classes ought to be enough to have PWD’s visible in
LGBTQ scholarship, in CLAGS’s events & anthologies, and
especially in panels & conferences claiming to try to
include the full diversity of our communities…..(so I’m
talking about—integrating it into many presentations, not
just as one ghettoised “event”, which people can skip, or
soon forget)….. there are also interesting commonalities
beyond “population overlap”, to study:
1. Invisibility / coming out
2. Discrimination / legal history
3. The idea that “gay” was “sick”
4. The much older theory, that “gay” was related to body
5. The ubiquity and often non-specificity of the
perennial schoolyard epithets “faggot” and””retard”
6. Both classes were targeted by fascists.
7. The fact that a homosexual or bisexual child may
have no known family members who share the trait. A
child with a disability may similarly be “the only one”.
So the child may experience a total lack of real
understanding and support in the family, regarding either
8. The sometimes invisibility of some disabilities, and
the sometimes invisibility of homosexuality—often
enable such persons to witness totally candid statements
of prejudice against themselves.
That last circumstance, alone, can lead to some
My mobility disability and eye impairments are still often
Twice recently, I have met a fellow worker in the
architectural field, and we’ve discussed “What have you
been working on, lately?” In both of these encounters,
I’ve enthusiastically explained that I’m studying
Universal Design (design that works equally well for
both people with, and people without disabilities). And
I explained that I’m already applying it, in successful
public advocacy to influence the design of a train
station, towards better accessibility for PWD’s.
Both of these architects (who don’t know each other), in
these completely separate conversations, looked at me
and saw no disability, and they responded in eerie
synchronicity, with the exact same sentence:
“Why do you care about this?”
Then I “came out”…..
Jim L. Davis
Independent Scholar and Design Consultant
Copyright © 1999 by Jim L. Davis. All rights reserved.