Category Archives: Papers

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’.

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.

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.


The arrival of the ‘brown envelope’: The embodied experience of welfare reform in the UK (paper with Karen Soldatic, 2012)

Reeve, D. and Soldatic, K. (2012) ‘The arrival of the ‘brown envelope’: The embodied experience of welfare reform in the UK’, paper presented at 6th Biennial Disability Studies Conference, Lancaster University, 11-13 September.


Within the UK, the restructuring of disability social security measures under the Cameron Government welfare to work agenda has received considerable attention within the mainstream media.  Frequently, we are exposed to a range of discourses and discursive practices that seek to morally, politically and socially justify the on-going withdrawal of disability social entitlements via the realm of disability benefits such as the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).  While there has been a growing body of work that has sought to identify the significant material and stigmatising effects of the Cameron Government’s disability welfare to work agenda, thus far, there have been few studies that have directly drawn upon the rich narratives of disabled women who have directly experienced the coercive administrative procedures of the government’s welfare to work agenda.

In this paper, we begin to fill this significant gap in the literature.  Our point of analysis seeks to understand disabled women’s emotionally embodied experience of receiving information from the administrative department responsible for notifying disabled ESA recipients of welfare assessments and other mandatory requirements such as job centre appointments that form part of these reforms.  We argue, that exploring disabled women’s embodied experience of the arrival of the brown envelope, the envelope containing welfare reform administrative requirements for ESA recipients, provides a critical window into understanding the nascent forms of psycho-social embodied disablism that emerges under such coercive disciplining regimes.  Further, through the use of narrative methodologies, we show that the disabling effects of such administrative processes not only affect the ‘emotional wellbeing’ of the individuals concerned, but have far greater consequences for the processing of their legitimate claims to disability social entitlements.

‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’: Welfare reform and the Work Capability Assessment (paper with Karen Soldatic, 2012)

Reeve, D. and Soldatic, K. (2012) ‘‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’: Welfare reform and the Work Capability Assessment’, paper presented at Theorizing Normalcy and the Mundane, 3rd International Conference, Chester University, 26-27 June.


Disabled people and their entitlement to social security benefits are now a central concern of neoliberal economic policy debates (OECD, 2009). As a consequence, across western (neo)liberal democracies, a redefinition of who is seen as ‘really disabled’ is taking place. The form that this takes varies with country; in the UK this has resulted in many disabled people who were formerly in receipt of Incapacity Benefit, being now declared as ‘fit to work’ under the successor Employment Support Allowance.

As the coalition government continue their plans to reform disability benefits under the auspices of a time of austerity, the Work Capability Assessment is a key tool to separate out disabled people into those deserving of support, those deemed fit to work and those in the intermediate work-related activity group. Drawing on interviews with disabled women talking about their experience of claiming ESA, this paper will discuss their experiences of attending a WCA medical. We will show how these women internalise governmental and media discourses about who is seen as disabled (and worthy of support) and the ways in which they navigate the complex, trap-laden setting of the WCA medical.

This paper will be presenting new ideas which are still under development by the two authors. One line of discussion will show how these narrative accounts illustrate the ways in which ESA and the associated WCA lead to economic zones of indistinction (Agamben, 1998). In these liminal spaces disabled people are no longer protected by the welfare state and instead find themselves at the mercy of prejudiced employers and part-time, insecure work opportunities. This paper will also discuss the impact on the emotional health of these disabled women caused by their negotiation of the multiple, shifting, conflicting identities foisted upon them by external agents.

The relevance of psycho-emotional disablism for physiotherapists and their patients (paper, 2012)

Reeve, D. (2012) ‘The relevance of psycho-emotional disablism for physiotherapists and their patients’, paper presented at North West Regional Network CSP: AGM and Study Day, Bolton Arena, 21 April.

This paper introduced the concept of psycho-emotional disablism to a room of physiotherapists – drawing on both my academic work and personal experiences of using physiotherapy services.

Part of the problem or part of the solution? A discussion of the reality of ‘Inclusive Access for Disabled Customers’ (paper, 2012)

Reeve, D. (2012) ‘Part of the problem or part of the solution? A discussion of the reality of ‘Inclusive Access for Disabled Customers’’, paper presented at Disability – Spaces and Places of Exclusion Symposium, Lancaster University, 16-17 April.


Although disabled people in the UK had the right to use services and access goods in 1995, it was only on 2004 that the Disability Discrimination Act (replaced in 2010 by the Equality Act) was extended to demand that service providers make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to physical features which made it difficult for disabled people to access their services. However the failure of planners and architects to embrace inclusive design has meant that Western cities reveal a ‘design apartheid where building form and design are inscribed with the values of an ‘able-bodied’ society’ (Imrie, 1998: 129). In addition, the ‘reasonable adjustments’ which are made often concentrate on aiding independence through the provision of physical access, but at the cost of disabled people’s self-esteem and dignity. Thus the adjustments made are often far from ideal for the people who use them.

This paper will discuss how indirect psycho-emotional disablism can arise from moving within ‘landscapes of exclusion’ (Kitchin, 1998: 351) caused by poorly thought through ‘reasonable adjustments’. Whilst a flight of steps can exclude a wheelchair user (structural disablism), being forced to access a building through a separate back entrance can remind that person that they are a second-class citizen, who is being reluctantly included. Consequently the wheelchair user may decide not to access this building and ironically the ‘solution’ to a physical barrier has created a new psycho-emotional barrier which maintains social exclusion and isolation. If one takes into account the other forms of psycho-emotional disablism which people with impairments face on a daily basis e.g. prejudiced interactions with others and internalised oppression, then the emotional effect produced by being reminded that one is ‘out of place’ (Kitchin, 1998: 351) needs to be taken as seriously as the more common structural disablism caused by inaccessible environments.

This seminar paper was developed into a subsequent book chapter.