As a queer disabled woman, I experience both macro and micro aggressions on a regular basis. Microaggressions are behaviors or statements that do not necessarily reflect malicious intent but which nevertheless can inflict insult or injury. Each time we hear these things, they are like a little jab to our souls. They serve to remind us that we are less than the micro-aggressor. Over time, they take a stifling toll on each of us. Every time someone chooses to interact with me by just making a comment like “Want to race? or “You drive that thing well.” I am reminded that I am seen for my disability first, and the person interacting with me, while trying to be polite, is unable to see past my disability in any way when interacting with me.
Macro aggressions are, on the other hand, are actions that are meant to exclude, either by action or omission. Not complying with disability rights laws is a macro aggression. The Americans with Disabilities Act has been law for more than 25 years, the Fair Housing Act for more than 27, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act for more than 40 years, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation has been law for more than 42 years. At this point, decades after all these laws were passed, any failure to comply is either a willful attempt to evade the law, or due to willful ignorance.
Avoiding microaggressions is not a matter of political correctness, but rather constructive engagement of differences. It is in part a function of being polite, and being cognizant of how one’s words affect others. It is, not an attempt at totalitarianism, but instead a way to connect with others — particularly others who are different from oneself — in ways that affirm the importance of relationships. Avoiding macroaggressions is all of the above, plus complying with the law.
I was recently asked to give some examples of the macro and micro aggressions I face on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. Here are twenty of each experienced recently or regularly.
- Telling a disabled person “you are so inspiring/amazing/capable” (sometimes in combination) — usually while doing mundane things like buying dog food, or pushing my daughter’s wheelchair
- Telling a wheelchair user “you drive that thing well” referring to my wheelchair (also “How fast does that thing go,” “Want to race,” “Can I hitch a ride,” Do you have a license to drive that thing,” “You need a backup beeper on that thing.”)
- Using the accessible restroom stall when you are physically capable of using the non-accessible stalls without pain or risk of injury.
- Talking very slooowwwllly to me or my children
- Asking my attendants what I want to order in a restaurant
- Using baby talk with my 25 and 16 year olds
- Refusing to repeat oneself when I am unable to understand them
- Saying “What are you deaf?” when I don’t understand what they are saying
- Sighing and complaining when behind my daughter driving her wheelchair slowly
- Asking “what’s wrong with her?” when referring to my daughter
- Revving your engine and honking your horn when I cross the street
- Telling me “I could never do all you do” (referring to the fact that I work, am raising children, and am slightly active in my community — a task millions of American women do)
- Asking a disabled person “Do you know [random disabled individual in some distant city]?”
- Saying “She’s so high/low functioning”
- Saying “I don’t even think of you as disabled”
- Wearing scented body products in areas labeled as scent free
- Complaining about having to accommodate another child’s nut allergy
- Calling a situation “retarded”
- Telling a wheelchair user their chair takes up too much space or is in the way
- Complaining about how long it takes to deploy the wheelchair lift on a city bus
- Spending tens of thousands of dollars to modify a building for a new business, but not adding a ramp for the single step into the building.
- Holding bar association meetings in the inaccessible homes of members.
- Parking illegally in an accessible parking space — even if just for a minute
- Blocking access to accessible restrooms with mops, trash cans, and other debris.
- Narrow store aisles, or placing displays in store aisles blocking access
- Building websites that are inaccessible to people who use screen readers
- Refusing to provide wheelchair access claiming “We are grandfathered in.”
- Calling a person “retarded”
- Questioning my little person adult daughter’s ability to order a drink, even when she provides her ID
- Building restaurants with only high tables, or seating areas up a step
- Not having the lowered customer service counter open in a store
- Refusing to allow a disabled person to make access modifications to her home
- Refusing to allow a service animal in a vacation rental
- Refusing to provide sign language interpreters for attorney-client meetings
- Refusing to allow wheelchair users to fly on an airplane
- Not maintaining wheelchair lifts on buses
- Protesting a group home being opened in your neighborhood
- Not having captions in a movie theater
- Broken automatic door buttons
- Segregating disabled students to “special schools.”