Tag Archives: impairment

(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’.

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.

Psycho-emotional disablism: The missing link? (chapter, 2012)

Reeve, D. (2012) ‘Psycho-emotional disablism: The missing link?’, in N. Watson, A. Roulstone and C. Thomas (eds) Routledge Handbook of Disability Studies, London: Routledge, pp. 78-92.

This book chapter uses the phenomenological concept of social dys-appearance to highlight the embodied nature of psycho-emotional disablism and the manner in which it is mediated by impairment and impairment effects via the operation of cultural prejudices about disability.


Psycho-emotional disablism and the ‘dys-appearing’ body: Implications for the disability/impairment divide (keynote, 2011)

Reeve, D. (2011) ‘Psycho-emotional disablism and the ‘dys-appearing’ body: Implications for the disability/impairment divide’, paper presented at Theorizing Normalcy and the Mundane (2nd international conference), Manchester Metropolitan University, 14-15 September (keynote).


The social model of disability has been criticised for maintaining an artificial separation of the impaired body from socially constructed disability. Whilst politically this has been very useful in helping the disabled people’s movement recognise and challenge forms of social oppression experienced by people with impairments, this dichotomy fails to recognise the ‘carnal politics of everyday life’ (Paterson and Hughes, 1999). Drawing on phenomenological concepts, these authors showed that when people with impairments experience disabling barriers such as patronising behaviour, then the impaired body is brought into focus, ‘dys-appearing’ because of its perceived ‘abnormality’.

It is clear that the experience of psycho-emotional disablism (Thomas, 2007) which arises from disablist attitudes and behaviours at the interpersonal level, is closely related to Paterson and Hughes’ account of the ‘dys-appearing’ body. Therefore, one aim of this paper is to examine what the concept of social dys-appearance can bring to an analysis of different forms of psycho-emotional disablism. I will show that this provides a useful deconstruction of internalised oppression, identifying the difference between ‘false consciousness’ and ‘double consciousness’. I then extend the analysis to the experiences of ‘passing’ and creating oneself as the ‘disabled subject’ when applying for disability benefits.

These examples show that psycho-emotional disablism is embodied, which in turn has implications for discussions about the impairment/disability divide. Rather than ignoring impairment (social model) or suggesting that impairment is socially constructed, instead I will suggest that when considering psycho-emotional disablism, it is necessary to take account of impairment as part of the analysis of disablism. Bodies do matter; impaired bodies are not all considered equally in the cultural psyche. Therefore it could be predicted that prejudice (which leads to psycho-disablism) is mediated by perceived impairment – that psycho-emotional disablism can take different forms depending on what is known/visible to the other (non) disabled person.

Ableism and disability studies: The myth of the reliable and contained body (paper, 2010)

Reeve, D. (2010) ‘Ableism and disability studies: The myth of the reliable and contained body’, paper presented at Critical Disability Studies Conference: Theorizing Normalcy and the Mundane, Manchester Metropolitan University, 12-13 May.


Disability studies literature has focused on the production of disablism, the practices and assumptions which underpin the social oppression of people with impairments. In contrast, ableism, refers to the privileging of able-bodiedness and is created by a ‘network of beliefs, processes and practices that produce a particular kind of self and body (the corporeal standard) that is projected as the perfect, as the species-typical, and, therefore, as essential and fully human’ (Campbell, 2005: 127). As well as contributing to the valuing of a body which moves, thinks, speaks, sees and hears ‘normally’, able-bodiedness also privileges a body that is reliable and contained.

In some respects, disability studies analyses of disablism have been unduly influenced by these ableist assumptions, concentrating on the ‘paradigmatic person with a disability [who] is healthy disabled and permanently and predictably impaired’ (Wendell, 2001:21). This leaves the so-called ‘unhealthy disabled’, those with chronic illness, underrepresented in accounts of experiences of disablism. Related to the ideal of the reliable body, is the importance that bodies are also contained; one of the markers of adulthood, as opposed to childhood, is that bowel and bladder are controlled. However incontinence is a common impairment effect for many disabled adults and fear of an ‘accident’ can keep someone isolated at home as effectively as any other disabling barrier.

This paper will explore the challenges which unreliable and leaky bodies represent for the individual as well as for disability studies, supporting the argument that the experience of (dis)ableism is crucially interconnected with impairment and impairment effects.

‘Sick or disabled?’: A discussion of the interaction between chronic illness and psycho-emotional disablism (paper, 2009)

Reeve, D. (2009) ‘‘Sick or disabled?’: A discussion of the interaction between chronic illness and psycho-emotional disablism’, paper presented at Disability and Chronic Illness Workshop, University of the West of England, 30 January.


Working from within a disability studies perspective, this paper uses the extended social relational definition of disablism (rather than disability) whereby:

‘Disablism is a form of social oppression involving the social imposition of restrictions of activity on people with impairments and the socially engendered undermining of their psycho-emotional well-being.’ (Thomas, 2007: 73)

Like the social model of disability traditionally used within disability studies, this definition clearly recognises disabling barriers which operate at the structural/material level, affecting what people can do. However, in addition to the more usual public barriers faced by people with impairments, this definition also explicitly recognises barriers which operate at the psycho-emotional (personal) level. Thus someone may be prevented from doing something because of a flight of stairs (structural disablism) or because of the attitudes/stares of others (psycho-emotional disablism).

Disability studies has been criticised for failing to take account of the lived experience of impairment and in particular, for failing to represent adequately the experiences of people living with chronic illness. Similarly, there have been criticisms of medical sociology for neglecting the effects of disablism when discussing the lived experience of people with chronic illness.

In this paper I will discuss some of the issues which arise when considering the potential role of psycho-emotional disablism in the lives of people with chronic illness. I will draw on the narratives of two women with MS and a man with RSD who took part in my doctoral research, to show the complexity of their lived experiences of chronic illness and psycho-emotional disablism.

I show how psycho-emotional disablism is revealed within their accounts of dealing with health professionals and other people, and how it is exposed by the problematic relationships they have with themselves (internalised oppression) as they move between different subject positions such as being disabled, sick or well. In addition psycho-emotional disablism can happen when one is forced to occupy a particular position by others, for example when applying for disability benefits.

However one cannot simply analyse these examples through the lens of disablism alone – it is also necessary to take account of impairment and impairment effects as well as other facets of identity. This is particularly true in the case of chronic illness such as MS with unpredictable ‘good’ and ‘bad’ days; what are the consequences of being ‘disabled’ one day, but ‘able’ the next? I also show how chronic illness can be exacerbated by the experience of psycho-emotional disablism as well as impacting on how people can resist this ‘inner’ dimension of oppression.

Importantly, although someone might not see themselves as disabled, as the examples I discuss show, this does not mean that psycho-emotional disablism will also be absent from the lives of people with chronic illness.

Therefore, when looking at concepts of chronic illness, it is also necessary to take account of the concept of psycho-emotional disablism and vice versa – they do not exist in isolation but interact with each other in a complex manner.

The red wedding dress and other stories: Intersections of psycho-emotional disablism, impairment effects and gender (paper, 2008)

Reeve, D. (2008) ‘The red wedding dress and other stories: Intersections of psycho-emotional disablism, impairment effects and gender’, paper presented at Subjectivity: International Conference, Cardiff University, 27-29 June.


This paper draws on my PhD which explores the nature of psycho-emotional disablism – a form of social oppression which operates along emotional pathways – and the ways in which this affects the different ways that people with impairments identify (or not) as disabled.

I will discuss the experience of internalised oppression and prejudiced attitudes – examples of psycho-emotional disablism – and show the impact this had on one disabled woman’s subjectivity, as well as her emotional well-being. Although at times the reactions of others left her feeling vulnerable and exposed, she also gave examples of where she had created her own alternate subjectivities. These stories also revealed how psycho-emotional disablism was intertwined with impairment effects, structural disablism (e.g. environmental barriers) and other factors such as gender and age.

Finally I will briefly discuss these stories in the light of Braidotti’s concept of a ‘nomadic’ subject (1994, 2002) suggesting that this could provide a useful metaphor for examining the myriad ways in which people with impairments see themselves as ‘disabled’ or not, and how this is highly context dependent.