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  • Writer's pictureEmma Vogelmann

Addressing some misconceptions of disability

An over the shoulder photo of Emma on her iPhone. The iPhone is on a stand on a wood desk. There are decorations in the background.
Photo by Chris O'Donovan

You know those moments where you don't know whether you should laugh or cry? Well for disabled people, those moments happen more often than you might think. So often we encounter people who have no idea how to interact with us or have already made up their minds as to what we can and cannot do. To say that these interactions are frustrating, would be putting it very mildly!

A few weeks ago, I asked my followers to share the most common misconceptions of disability that they face in everyday life. In this blog, I will be addressing these misconceptions and sharing whether or not I have faced them. Spoiler alert, I've faced all of them!


That I’m at a day centre and couldn’t possibly be working for real money.

This one actually made me laugh out loud. So many times non-disabled people have asked me if I work and when I reply yes, a look of genuine surprise sweeps across their face. While it is true that disabled people do far too much for free, many of us do work and are paid for that work, same as everyone else. I know so many disabled people who have the most interesting careers, The Wheelchair Activist podcast interviewees to name a few.

You don't drink, work, have sex, travel, go out independently. In my case people also assume I am paralysed and have no sensation in my legs and feet!

Just because we are disabled, doesn't mean we only do disability related things all day, every day. The drinking part of this misconception is an interesting one. I've certainly found people are surprised when disabled people drink because how could we possibly pollute our bodies given our medical history?? To that I say, you try dealing the ableism all day and not want a drink when you get home!

I find the assumption that all wheelchair users are paralysed really weird! I have been asked so many times if I have full feeling and sensation in my legs and I really don't understand it. Is it because it is easier to relate to someone who has become disabled through an accident rather than someone who was born with it? I'm not sure what the answer to this is but I certainly agree that this is a very common misconception.

That we are single and that we will never be a mum.

I feel I could write a whole book on the misconception that all disabled people are asexual, single and have absolutely no desire to become a parent. Although I am happily single and do not currently want to have children, I know that many disabled people in relationships or want to become parents really struggle with people's attitudes on this subject. I have often heard that when disabled people are out with their partners, people assume their partner is their carer which must be incredibly frustrating. Funnily enough, I've had the reverse experience of people assuming my carer is my partner so it looks like disabled people just can't win on this one!

There is a real misconception that disabled people are asexual. If I had £1 for every time I have had an x-ray and didn't get asked if I might be pregnant, I would buy a really nice pair of Alexander McQueen boots! Because of this it must be very difficult for a disabled women who wish to be a mother to address this and then have to convince medical professionals that they are capable of going through a pregnancy and being a parent. There is an upcoming episode of The Wheelchair Activist that takes a deep dive into this topic.

I recently had a hospital appointment about having cyst removed and I haven’t experienced a doctor quite as bad at assuming I can’t speak for years. She straight away spoke to my mum and this continued through the whole appointment even though I answered every question. To make it worse she referred to me as he and him didn’t even use my name!

This experience is so anger inducing but equally unsurprising. I have so much empathy for the person who submitted this experience as I have been through it far too many times. What can be really surprising for non-disabled people hearing about this experience is that this attitude has come from a medical professional who, you would assume, knows better. Sadly this is not always the case.

I had an eye exam where the optometrist kept asking my dad questions instead of me. How he expected that to work I will never know! It is baffling that questions continued to be directed to this persons mum even after they demonstrated they were able to answer the questions themselves. I've felt really vulnerable in these situations and haven't always felt able to say something. I encourage the non-disabled person to ask that the questions be redirected to the person who they are about.

These are just some of the misconceptions that my followers sent me. Let me know if you would like a part 2 or if this should become a regular series.

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