Mind the gap: Exploring the creative intersections of disability studies and counselling (paper with Mèl Halacre, 2016)

Reeve, D. and Halacre, M. (2016) ‘Mind the gap: Exploring the creative intersections of disability studies and counselling’, paper presented at 2016 Lancaster Disability Studies Conference, Lancaster University, 6-8 September.


It has long been recognised that disability as a diversity issue is still largely absent from counselling theory, practice and training (McLeod, 2013). Similarly, disability studies has been reticent to engage with the psychological ramifications of living in a disabling world. One of the difficulties of bridging these two disciplines is that of bringing a social model view of disability to bear on what is often viewed as an individualised, personal experience of the world. This is particularly relevant when disabled clients bring issues to therapy which are a complex muddle of individual (impairment) and social (disability) effects. The relative absence of disability within counselling training means that counsellors are often ill-equipped to understand the complexity of these issues and their impact on the disabled person. Hence counselling may be at best ineffective, or at worst, yet another disabling experience for the client.

This intertwining of individual and social aspects of disability and impairment causes a theoretical challenge for counselling and disability studies theory alike, a tension which needs to be resolved if disabled people are to have access to effective counselling.

In this paper, we explore the potential of using Thomas’ extended social relational definition of disablism (2007) as a way of reducing the gap between these two disciplines – through a collaboration between an experienced counsellor who has worked with many disabled clients and a disability studies theorist with a life-long interest in this area. We consider the following questions:

  • How useful is the concept of psycho-emotional disablism for helping counsellors better understand the lived experience of disablism within contemporary UK society?
  • How does a counsellor support their client to make effective changes in the face of intertwined disabling barriers and impairment/impairment effects?
  • What challenges does this raise for disability studies and counselling practice alike?

(Re)making the human: A discussion of disability and impairment in virtual reality (paper, 2016)

Reeve, D. (2016) ‘(Re)making the human: A discussion of disability and impairment in virtual reality’, paper presented at Theorizing Normalcy and the Mundane, 6th International Conference, Manchester Metropolitan University, 25-26 July.


Online and video games have been criticised for consistently excluding (and overlooking) disabled gamers (Powers et al 2015). There have also been discussions of how disabled players present themselves as (non)disabled in these virtual worlds as well as the emotional/health benefits to the individual of making social contacts outside real life.

Drawing on the notion of Braidotti’s critical posthuman subjectivity (2013) I want to present my own experience of playing the quirky MMO game called Glitch which ended in 2012.In addition I have been working with an international group who are recreating the game as Eleven, a project supported by the use of Slack, a phenomenally successful workplace communication tool produced by the makers of Glitch.

I want to consider how participation changes for disabled people as they move from the real to the virtual. What does this journey enable and create? How do the meanings of ‘disability’ and ‘impairment’ change when one moves within digital spaces? These examples of ‘(re)making the human’ will be further discussed through an analysis of my personal experience of contributing to Eleven and using Slack, a software platform which incorporates ‘gamification’ at the possible expense of ‘includification’.

Disgust, self-disgust and disability: A disability studies perspective (chapter, 2015)

Reeve, D. (2015) ‘Disgust, self-disgust and disability: A disability studies perspective’, in P. Powell, P. Overton and J. Simpson (eds) The Revolting Self: Perspectives on the Psychological and Clinical Implications of Self-directed Disgust, London: Karnac Books, pp. 53-74.


There has been little written within disability studies about the role of self-disgust in the lives of disabled people. Drawing on both psychological and sociological approaches, this chapter will look at the assumptions and realities of self-disgust in the lives of those whose ‘impaired’ bodies and minds cause them to be labelled as disabled, and therefore in the eyes of some, to be viewed as deviant and disgusting.

Within contemporary Western society, disability is viewed as a negative identifier of difference; cultural messages and images reinforce the inherent undesirability of impairment and there few positive representations of disabled people. Therefore it is to be expected that many disabled people end up internalising these cultural myths and prejudices about disability, believing that they are somehow of lesser value than non-disabled people. This phenomenon of internalised oppression will be discussed with reference to some of the psychoanalytic ideas developed as part of a contextual psychology of disablism (Watermeyer, 2013) to discuss the relevance of self-disgust when considering the different ways that disabled people manage and challenge internalised oppression.

In addition this chapter will consider the experiences of disabled people who live with incontinence, an impairment which directly challenges the modernist project that demands bodies which are contained, clean and free from contamination. It will be shown that rather than simply feeling self-disgust towards bodies which truly are unruly and leaky, over time these disabled people develop alternative ways of being which provide more positive and healthy relationships between body and psyche than might otherwise be expected.

Psycho-emotional disablism in the lives of people experiencing mental distress (chapter, 2015)

Reeve, D. (2015) ‘Psycho-emotional disablism in the lives of people experiencing mental distress’, in H. Spandler, J. Anderson and B. Sapey (eds) Madness, Distress and the Politics of Disablement, Bristol: Policy Press, pp. 99-112.


The traditional social model of disability focuses on the public, structural barriers faced by disabled people and has been criticised as having little relevance for those people experiencing mental distress. However this group of disabled people do experience psycho-emotional disablism in the form of disablist hate crime and prejudiced attitudes from others. Using this as a starting point, this chapter adopts an extended social relational definition of disablism (Thomas, 2007) to show the interconnections between mental distress, disablism and impairment and considers how they are mediated by structural disablism, psycho-emotional disablism, and the psycho-emotional effects of impairment. A three-fold model is proposed which recognises: mental distress as a diverse way of ‘being’ rather than pathology; the disabling consequences of living with prejudice and stigma; the ‘stickiness’ of impairment within accounts of living with mental distress; and the experience of people living with mental distress and other forms of impairment.

This is an updated version of 2012 chapter. My ideas are further developed, linking together psycho-emotional disablism, structural disablism and impairment in the lives of people experiencing mental distress.

From geek to theory chick … a life of many parts (paper, 2015)

Reeve, D. (2015) ‘From geek to theory chick … a life of many parts’, paper presented at International Women’s Day, Cardinal Newman College, Preston, 6 March.

This talk was given to a group of sixth-form students on International Women’s Day. I talked about my life and the different things I had done. I showed how all my diverse life experiences – from scientist to computer scientist to social scientist – all fitted into my understandings of myself and disability.

Part of the problem or part of the solution? How far do ‘reasonable adjustments’ guarantee ‘Inclusive Access for Disabled Customers’? (chapter, 2014)

Reeve, D. (2014) ‘Part of the problem or part of the solution? How far do ‘reasonable adjustments’ guarantee ‘Inclusive Access for Disabled Customers’?’, in K. Soldatic, H. Morgan and A. Roulstone (eds) Disability, Spaces and Places of Policy Exclusion, Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 99-114.

This chapter looks at ‘reasonable adjustments’ to the environment and shows how they can cause indirect psycho-emotional disablism.

DISsing the social GGRRAAACCEEESSS (paper with Victoria Jones, 2014)

Jones, V. and Reeve, D. (2014) ‘DISsing the social GGRRAAACCEEESSS’, paper presented at AFT Annual Conference: IRREVERENCE – (Dis)respect, freedoms, loyalty, ethics & survival, Adelphi Hotel, Liverpool, 18-20 September.


The “Social GGRRAAACCEEESSS” developed by John Burnham and Alison Roper-Hall (Burnham 1992, 1993, 2011, Roper-Hall 1998, 2008) highlight the social factors that can influence both practitioners and clients. In this mnemonic disability and impairment effects are represented by ‘ability’.

Drawing on the field of Disability Studies and the social construction of disability this workshop will facilitate an exploration of the consequences of the omission of the ‘dis’ of disability. It will be proposed that ‘ability’ serves to deny the psycho-emotional dimensions of both disability and impairment effects that can influence the way disability, identities and roles are constructed by disabled and non-disabled therapists and clients.

Participants will apply the visible-invisible and voiced-unvoiced framework (Burnham, 2012), to disability and impairment and be invited to join a conversation exploring the utility of these ideas in practice and training.


Homo sacer, states of exception and zones of indistinction: An analysis of disabled people’s experience of welfare reform in the UK (paper, 2014)

Reeve, D. (2014) ‘Homo sacer, states of exception and zones of indistinction: An analysis of disabled people’s experience of welfare reform in the UK’, paper presented at 7th Biennial Disability Studies Conference, Lancaster University, 9-11 September.


This exploratory paper will utilise the liminal figure of homo sacer (Agamben, 1998) to consider the experiences of disabled people living at the sharp end of a major reform of the welfare system supporting those traditionally considered too ill to work. This is happening at a time of high unemployment and economic recession in the UK.

Two aspects of homo sacer will be discussed in this paper. Firstly it will be shown how disabled people can find themselves caught up in an ‘economic’ zone of indistinction, as a consequence of a state of exception caused by these neoliberal policies. For example, the changing of eligibility criteria for out-of-work benefits paid to disabled people has resulted in a group of disabled people who are now deemed to be fit-to-work rather than unfit-to-work. However existing barriers to paid work – whether related to the consequences of impairment or to employer attitudes – remain unchanged and so rates of employment remain low compared to non-disabled unemployed people.

Secondly, a key aspect of homo sacer is that (s)he can be killed with impunity, without the death being treated as homicide (Agamben, 1998). There have been a number of recent deaths and suicides of disabled people that have been attributed directly to benefits cuts or to the anxiety and stress caused by the work capability assessment process. The government refutes these claims and simply offers condolences to the family of the dead claimant. This ‘letting die’ of disabled people as a consequence of welfare reform could be seen as an example of the inherent structural violence associated with neoliberalism (Tyner, 2014)

This paper aims to use the figure of homo sacer to illustrate the contradictory and precarious positions that disabled people are often forced to adopt as a consequence of neoliberal welfare reform.

The rise of the Maker Movement and open source prosthetics: An example of Braidotti’s critical posthuman subject (paper with Richard Sewell, 2014)

Reeve, D. and Sewell, R. (2014) ‘The rise of the Maker Movement and open source prosthetics: An example of Braidotti’s critical posthuman subject’, paper presented at Theorizing Normalcy and the Mundane, 5th International Conference, Sheffield University, 7-8 July.


Theorists such as Braidotti and Haraway have written about the emergence of the posthuman during the late 20th century, highlighting the increasing significance of intimate relationships between people and the non-human. Many disabled people have this relationship with technology and animals – assistance dogs, implants and prosthetics to name a few – but these theorists rarely engage with the experiences of this group of people who could be considered to be already posthuman.

Goodley, Lawthom and Runswick Cole (forthcoming) argue that ‘disability captures the productive possibilities of the posthuman condition … [and] brings something critical, politicised and rich to posthuman theory’. This exploratory paper seeks to provide another concrete example of the ‘critical posthuman subject’ (Braidotti, 2013) by looking at the way in which the rise of the Maker Movement and new forms of digital collaboration have enabled people to design and manufacture prosthetic limbs and assistive technology that meet the needs of disabled people in new ways. The rise of this ‘citizen designer’ (Hamidi et al 2014) provides a direct challenge to the conventional production of these assistive products and is made possible because of global flows of information, technology and materials.