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Disabilities | MEN R US.CO.UKThe second closet: LGBTs with disabilities

"James has had to cope with some negative reaction towards his sexual orientation. One person continually tried to press religious literature on him. Once he was prevented by a driver of a disability transport service from entering a gay club. Another time inside a gay bar, someone muttered, “Why on earth would he be here?”

James believes feels some gay disabled people are more “acceptable” within gay communities than others. “People seem far less uncomfortable around people who are deaf, for instance, than they do around those in a wheelchair.” This perhaps is because, or why, the gay deaf community is more visible. “Of those in wheelchairs, there seems to be a higher comfort level with those with paralysis, for instance, than with those with cerebral palsy or advanced MS,” James adds, noting that this tendency is reflected also in the heterosexual community.

Needless to say, gay people with disabilities struggle to find a place for themselves, to break out of social isolation, to find intimate partners and even to learn to accept their own bodies and sexual orientation. It’s not an easy road, says Tom, a wheelchair user with cerebral palsy. “I never liked my body because of my disability,” he says. “In the gay world we are bombarded with images of young, beautiful, able-bodied people. So when a man finds me attractive I’m automatically suspicious of him." 1

Definitions of disability

  • "What is classed as a disability? In the Equality Act a disability means a physical or a mental condition which has a substantial and long-term impact on your ability to do normal day to day activities." | What is classed as a disability? | Equality and Human Rights Commission
  • "You’re disabled under the Equality Act 2010 if you have a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities." | Definition of disability under the Equality Act 2010 | GOV.UK
  • "Disability results from the interaction between individuals with a health condition such as cerebral palsy, down syndrome and depression as well as personal and environmental factors including negative attitudes, inaccessible transportation and public buildings, and limited social support. People with disability experience poorer health outcomes, have less access to education and work opportunities, and are more likely to live in poverty than those without a disability." | Disability | World Health Organisation

More on disabilities

Learning disabilities | NHS
A learning disability affects the way a person learns new things throughout their lifetime. Find out how a learning disability can affect someone and where you can find support.

Disability: 'People assume I can't be gay because I'm disabled' | BBC News | 23 Jan 2021

Legal definition of disability | General Medical Council
Disability discrimination | Mind
Disability organisations | Stonewall

Social model of disability

SOCIAL MODEL OF DISABILITY | MENRUS.CO.UKThe social model was developed by disabled people and says that people are disabled by barriers in society, not by their impairment or difference. Or, to put it another way, disabled people are seen as being disabled not by their impairments (such as blindness or autism) but by society’s failure to take their needs into account.

Being disabled is part of the normal spectrum of human life and society must expect disabled people to be there and include them/ us. An example of this would be a wheelchair user who cannot travel pavements because of the curb steps. The social model would say that the problem is that there is no slope, not the person using a wheelchair ... something where there has been progress in lowering pavements to street level.

Barriers can be physical, like buildings not having accessible toilets or they can be caused by people's attitudes to difference, like assuming disabled people can't do certain things, or just not thinking about them at all. The social model of disability identifies systemic barriers, derogatory attitudes, and social exclusion (intentional or inadvertent), which make it difficult or impossible for individuals with impairments to be included in society and participating on an equal basis. If these barriers are removed, a person may still have an impairment but would not experience disability. These barriers are:

  • Physical and environmental
  • Attitudes
  • Communication
  • Organisational

Removing these barriers creates equality, offering disabled people more independence, choice, and control. This model is a great improvement for disabled people than the medical model because it means they can access the full range of educational, employment, social and other opportunities as everyone else, and have equal lives. Also, the social model locates the "problem" outside the disabled person and therefore offers a more positive approach because:2

  • it doesn't "blame" the individual or turn them into the problem
  • it involves everyone in identifying solutions
  • it encourages co-operative problem solving
  • it removes barriers for others as well as disabled people, that is, it is an equal opportunities model
  • it acknowledges disabled people's rights to full participation as citizens.

Social model of disability | Scope
Social model of disability | Disability Rights UK
Social model of disability | Wikipedia

Virtual Pride | LGBTQ+ Disabled Queer and Hear | 22 Aug 2020 | 3h 32m 5s
Live broadcast of LGBTQ+ Disabled Queer and Hear's first ever Virtual Pride event, featuring talent from disabled queer artists the world over, broadcast on Saturday 22nd August 2020.

1 Text adapted from "The second closet: LGBTs with disabilities" from MyHandicap/ MyChance (USA). We had a link to the article but cannot find one now (13-04-23).
2 Adapted from the Disability Rights Commission: Disability Discrimination Act (Best Practice Trainers Resource Pack) 2002

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