Goodnight ScholarTed


Goodnight ScholarTed. You’ve always been my favourite colleague. Since we met in Toronto in 2012, where I undertook my postdoc at the wonderful School of Disability Studies at Ryerson University, you’ve sat on my desk and tolerated every journal article, funding bid, conference paper and, since 2020, online meeting.

We flew you back, with your brother Bill, to move in with The Kid (who loved you very much). You started at the University of Sheffield with me, where we’ve happily stayed ever since.

While I was dutifully building my career, so too were you. Making the national press on multiple occasions; winning multiple accolades in the Academics with Cats Awards; and negotiating an international adoring fanbase on Twitter under the hashtag #ScholarTed. 

When we lost our babies, you slept by my side every night without fail, until I had the strength to get out of bed and face the world again. 

When Bill passed away in 2019, you paced around the house for days looking for him. When Noodles and Malibu-Barry came home as kittens you embraced them without fail.

When our own little one eventually arrived, even though you deeply resented him for the loss of attention (!), you let him chase you around in his baby walker and pull your tail, always being kind and gentle in return. Often you’d sit staring at the baby monitor, watching him sleep.

And today, as a tired and aging emeritus purr-fessor, after a short illness you said goodbye to academia and the world.

Highly-strung, moody, aloof, but playful. Inquisitive, curious and collegial. Gorgeous. That’s how I’ll remember you. Thank you for all the brilliant years.

We will miss you, ScholarTed. Rest in power.

(Re)Producing Pistorius: Patriarchy, Prosecution and the Problematics of Disability

This article was first published in the small student-led journal Sociological Imagination in 2013 during my time as the Ethel Louise Armstrong Postdoctoral Fellow at the School of Disability Studies, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada. I’m republishing it here on my own blog – almost seven years later and in its original form – in response to the BBC’s televising of The Trials of Oscar Pistorius (2020). The docuseries made headlines before even being televised through failing to even name Pistorius’ victim, Reeva Steenkamp, in its ill-fated trailer. Although written some time ago, the analysis below explores the complex intersections of disability, race, gender, colonialism, and class as they materialise in Pistorius’ violence and Steenkamp’s untimely death.


Reeva Steenkamp was a South African model. She grew up in Cape Town, South Africa, and began modelling at 14 after she was “spotted” while out shopping. Steenkamp, a law graduate, advocated on “women’s issues” such as rape and violence, as well as bullying. Her Twitter feed shows that she loved popcorn, chocolate mousse and smoothies; and, of course, her family and friends. The Thursday after she died Steenkamp had been scheduled to speak to students in Johannesburg about empowerment. She died on Valentine’s Day 2013 aged 30 at the hands of her partner, Para/Olympic runner Oscar “Blade Runner” Pistorius.

I anthropomorphize Steenkamp deliberately here, to counter her secondary place in the story of her own death. Despite the fact that she was the one that lost her life, she is not the core of the story; it’s not even her story. The narrative unfolding in the media coverage, perhaps not unexpectedly, is hollow: beautiful young people; a once golden “celeb” couple; glitz, glamour and wealth; a (fallen) sporting hero; and a grisly televised ‘CSI style’ (CNN, 2014) trial with the ‘makings of a riveting movie script’ (Daily Mirror, 14th March 2014), which is sating its audiences since ‘that sensational arrest’ (Daily Mail, 14th February 2013; emphasis added). Typically, Steenkamp has been sexualised in her death, with “racy” modelling photos routinely accompanying related news stories: ‘Reeva …the last pictures of Bladerunner’s girlfriend, days before he shot her’ (The Sun, 25th April 2013). Not allowed to rest in peace, Steenkamp’s embodiment of youth, womanhood, and beauty is rabidly consumed and regurgitated by misogynist newspapers for (amoral) profit in the form of the tantalising but typical ‘never-before-seen pictures’.

In this article, I ask some critical questions about the crime (of whichever nature it is deemed to be); the trial; the wider narrative and its main characters. I suggest that two central characters around which this tragic story revolves are cultural productions: the Supercrip and the imagined (Black) intruder (Orford 2014). Writing from a critical disability studies and feminist perspective, I trace the complex intersections of disability, race, gender, colonialism, and class as they materialise in this case. Throughout the article, I purposefully keep Steenkamp in view as I question the (extra)ordinariness of her death. Quite simply, I conclude by offering an answer to this question.

The “Blade Runner”: A Cultural Production

Oscar “Blade Runner” Pistorius was, prior to his arrest for murder in early 2013, readily hailed as both an ableist symbol of overcoming and beacon of exceptional hyper-masculine embodiment. Having been born without fibulas and having both legs amputated below the knee when he was 11 months old, Pistorius made history by becoming the only athlete to ever compete in both the Paralympics and Olympics; a notion of overcoming officially sanctioned, then, by the Court of Arbitration for Sport and International Association of Athletics, and celebrated by global media. Not only do his hegemonic masculine heterosexual materiality and extraordinary sporting achievements contradict common understandings of disabled masculinities as asexual, partial, fractured, and lacking masculine power and privilege (Gerschick, 1995; Shakespeare, 1999), but, as a man of remarkable aesthetic beauty, his image has been eagerly commodified through corporate sponsorship and advertising, alongside that of his non-disabled sporting peers. Thus, Pistorius embodies and affirms our dis/ableist culture’s unequivocal propagation of ‘compulsory able-bodiedness’ (McRuer, 2006: 2): an overarching, all-consuming dis/ableist ideology (intertwined with compulsory heterosexuality) which positions bodily normalcy as the exemplary human embodiment. Compulsory able-bodiedness ensures that the absence of normative embodiment be unquestionably endeavoured, regardless of human, economic, cultural and societal cost – hence the routine pathologisation, medicalisation and psychologisation of disabled people’s selves, bodies, and minds.

Moreover, Pistorius’ will, self-discipline, and achievement realise the dehumanising dis/ableist ideal of the ‘supercrip’ – a popular depiction of disability ‘where the disabled person is assigned super human, almost magical, abilities’ (Barnes, 1992: 10; Crow, 2000). Rooted in neoliberal and capitalist ideologies, the ‘supercrip’ valorises individual effort, human resolve, self-control, competition, and success, only celebrating disability and impairment which can be normalized through exceptionalism. Crucially, the supercrip is a discursive construction of disability against which all disabled people are implicitly and explicitly measured, classified, marked, and Othered. This is, in essence, its inherent danger for disabled people. However, the ways in which it defines disability only as bodily, simultaneously masking the environmental, economic, structural, cultural, and political causes, consequences and productions of both disability and impairment make it a construction of disability which is, by all accounts, precarious.

Further, Pistorius’ use of Cheetah Flex-Foot prosthetic limbs also offers our ableist cultural imaginary the possibility that we ‘could reconstitute our bodies, both as mechanical and organic’ (Meekosha and Shuttleworth, 2009: 60). His prosthetics are imagined to represent sleek military hardware; which may be rooted in the fact that much of prosthetic technology has emerged from military culture and research (for newly-amputee veterans) (Ott 2005). Thus Pistorius is hybridized, a mix of flesh and machine (see Haraway 1991), or posthuman (Braidotti 2013). Such a hybridized body – a real life “bionic man” – fulfils both our cultural thirst for weird, wondrous, and freaky bodies that can be unveiled, exhibited, examined and our fixation with scientific and medical advancement and their possibilities for the human body. Through a dis/ablest gaze Pistorius has been (re)produced as both a spectacle and an embodiment of freakery all at once (Clare 1999). Where for other disabled people this objectifying fetishisation likely induces feelings of shame, in Pistorius’ case he is revered because of the ways in which his (freaky) body is thought to “transcend” disability (Camporesi 2008). As Time stated when it voted him one of 100 most influential and heroic people of 2008: Pistorius is ‘‘on the cusp of a paradigm shift in which disability becomes ability, disadvantage becomes advantage’’. Thus, Pistorius’ freakdom is sanctioned and celebrated in dis/ableist cultures only because it disassociates him from dominant meanings of disability and impairment.

The (imagined) Intruder: Another Cultural Production

One can’t ignore the racial, colonial, gendered, classed and disability contexts in which Steenkamp’s tragic death is situated, nor their intricate intersections. A white Afrikaner’s only rationalisation for shooting his girlfriend through a locked door is that he thought she was an intruder. Such a defence is steeped in a prominent history of racial and colonial violence and is a product of a racist and neo-colonial contemporary South Africa. As South African novelist Margie Orford (2014) has commented, the third person – the (imagined) intruder – has silently been cast by Pistorius’ defence team as a Black man. Such assumptions rest firmly on historical tropes of the indigenous Black man as savage, violent, and criminal and the white settler as productive (thus wealthy), civilised and heroic (a heroism exacerbated by disability in this case). Tellingly, high-security gated housing developments are common in South Africa as the corporations that produce them deal in a politics of (racist) fear; as much providing separation as security. The swart gevaar (Afrikaans for Black threat) continues despite the fact the official apartheid ended long ago. Swartz (2013) argues that the swart gevaar is intensified by unfounded beliefs that the (majority Black) African National Congress (ANC) government is fuelling violence against White people. Despite South Africa’s readily identified “trigger happy” culture where the majority carry or own guns, and where research shows Black people are more likely to be victims of violent crime than White people (see Swartz 2013), it is only the Black indigenous figure that is both dangerous and a threat. But, as Pistorius’ defence is arguing, it’s important to situate this fear in the context of disability and bodily impairment: the notion that Pistorius was more fearful because he (allegedly) wasn’t wearing his prosthetics at the time (although this is, in reality, impossible to determine). The implicit and explicit swart gevaar carefully weaved into Pistorius’ defence is made all the more precarious (for him) because, in a court system with no jury, his fate rests upon the judgement of Judge Thokozile Masipa, a Black woman. While this has been said to be symbolically positive for black power in South Africa (the Black woman determining the destiny of the White man), this power is somewhat mitigated by the trial being conducted in English (despite the fact that English is not the first language of any of the key experts or witnesses), without even the question of which language needing to be asked (e.g. Arikaan or English) (Groots, Daily Maverick, 17th March 2014).

An (Extra)Ordinary Death

Thus, both the defence and the prosecution are peddling for Steenkamp’s death not to be ‘just another South African femicide’ (Orford 2014). Rather, during the trial her death is being carefully assembled as the exception: a tragic freak accidental shooting in an otherwise non-violent loving relationship; or a calculated and callous “crime of passion” (a misogynistic construction of violence against women if ever there was one). But the story that gets lost in all the inane drama is, actually, the mundanity of Steenkamp’s death; the fact that her death isn’t particularly exceptional, but one of thousands. The cultural violence of South Africa combined with a strong patriarchal context ensures that intimate partner violence and its most extreme consequence, femicide, is prevalent. In longitudinal research over 10 years, Abrahams et al (2012) found that despite significant government intervention and national efforts to prevent gender-based violence, there was only a reduction in female homicide which was consistent with a decline in overall homicides in South Africa. Abrahams et al (2012) found less decline among intimate femicides (where a woman has been killed by her intimate partner) leaving intimate partner violence as the leading cause of death of women homicide victims, with 56% of female homicides being committed by an intimate partner. While consideration of this violent culture is important, explaining Pistorius’ crime only in the context of South African violence has been argued to be yet another way of removing responsibility, denying his agency, and restoring his reputation (Ndopu 2013). It also problematises South African cultures in ways that mask the fact that misogyny and violence are global problems as well as socially, economically, and politically entrenched ones.

The disabled violent man, however, is a relatively unfamiliar notion. While disability and evilness, criminality, and monstrousness are synonymous in television, film and literary portrayals of disability – or as Longmore (2003: 133) states ‘deformity of body symbolizes deformity of soul’ – the combination of disability and violence in the minds of most extends only to the abuse and exploitation of, and violence inflicted towards, a disabled victim. This victim usually has physical, sensory, and/or cognitive impairment; the exception being those deemed mentally ill, who are habitually thought to be (potentially) violent and dangerous. Further, the culturally desexualised minds and bodies of disabled people ensure that intimate partner violence is seldom considered as a factor in disabled people’s lives (Thiara 2011; Liddiard 2013) – an assumption that has been particularly dangerous for disabled women (Liddiard 2012). But the disabled male (regardless of impairment, sexuality, age or class) is (re)produced in a peculiar dis/ableist binary: weak, dependent, non-violent, and safe; and yet bitter, caustic, revengeful and angry (anger positioned as emerging from an assumed resentment of disability). In Pistorius’ case, his well-constructed overcoming and becoming (from impairment to sporting hero) and struggle against (assumed) adversity affirms him as of an inherently good character.

To counter this powerful narrative of disabled people as saintly, the prosecution are purposefully casting Pistorius as reckless, immature, and treacherously uncurbed; a lover of fast cars, guns and beautiful women. But in court, Pistorius’ behaviour is carefully refuting this role: he whimpers, he places his head in hands, he wretches, and he vomits. These actions, which have been markedly amplified in media reporting of the trial, suggest that he is a devastated man who made a costly mistake – for which we must remember that Steenkamp has paid the ultimate price. Such actions whether real, performed, or both, give Pistorius a humility and gentility. In contrast, in ways typical for women when they are victims of violent crimes, Steenkamp has almost completely been written out in court – reduced to a mere corpse around which myriad events has unfolded. Where she is actively written in is via some particularly deplorable media spaces which have routinely interrogated of her moral (and sexual) character. Did she meet with her ex two days before she was killed? Was she making Pistorius jealous by flirting with his close friend, rugby player Francois Hougaard? Was she really the ‘other woman’ with whom Pistorius cheated on his ex-partner? Was she really pregnant with someone else’s child at the time of her death? ( 2013). Each of these questions are asked in ways which suggest that their answer makes any difference at all, or somehow serve rationalise Pistorius’ violent actions and therefore justify Steenkamp’s untimely death.

The Reappearance of Disability and Impairment: The Court Room

Returning to the media’s fixation with Pistorius’ embodied experiences in court, it is important to consider the meaning of such a preoccupation. Swartz (2013) and other commentators have suggested that, ‘a noteworthy feature of the coverage of the shooting in South African media has been the relative lack of attention to issues of disability’. In dis/ableist cultures where disabled people are customarily ascribed a one-dimensional identity (whereby disability subsumes all other identity markers) and the fact that so much of the Pistorius brand has been about (overcoming) disability, this is curious to say the least. But I suggest that disability – or rather, impairment – is visible. The trial has brought the everyday realities of Pistorius’ impairment into view for the first time. For example, much of the case hangs on the details of whether Pistorius felt more fearful of the imagined intruder because he wasn’t wearing his prosthetics, and how this relates to whether or not he was wearing his prosthetics at the time of both shooting Steenkamp through the door and then beating it open with a cricket bat to save her (as he maintains). Considering that Pistorius’ own lived embodiment incorporates militarily-created technology, one might think of Pistorius as quite literally unarmed without his prosthetics on; hence his need/desire to use a real life weapon. Further, we are witnessing an increasingly sickly, ailing body and broken mind in Pistorius as the trial continues. Pistorius’ post-human masculine self is being presented ultimately, as human, emphasised in the ways in which it is experiencing trauma. While this corporeal expression of trauma isn’t impairment in the strictest sense, its presence certainly disrupts common depictions of Pistorius as both superhuman and infallible. Rather, a new vulnerable, fragile and breakable Pistorius is emerging.

Another locale in which disability is reappearing is in the form of the dis/ableism found in much of the media coverage. For example, some media commentators have relied heavily on common disability tropes of the embittered, maladjusted cripple for most of their analysis – the assumption that, as Longmore (2003: 139) states, ‘disability is primarily a problem of emotional coping, or personal acceptance’. Lisa Vetten of the WITS Institute for Social and Economic Research has notoriously commented: “disabled men and women often struggle with their sense of masculinity or femininity because they are to some degree dependent”. As a disabled person, I wonder how Vetten knows this; or whether she realises it, at best, homogenises disabled people, and at worse, seemingly constructs a dangerous disabled psyche whereby disability – a form of social, economic, political and cultural oppression – is reduced to the level of the individual. Also present (though far less common), has been the equally lazy “he hasn’t got a leg to stand on it court” or “he’s shot himself in the foot there” (BBC News 18/3/2014) type humour from particular corners of the press: the notion that the cultural project of removing or rejecting the (disabled) poster child needs (and avows) raging dis/ableist discrimination and prejudice in the form of mocking a person’s impairment.

Also routine, are the ways in which his violent actions have been positioned as the sum of his disability status. For Pistorius, whose overcoming and casting away of disability is central to his fame, it’s intriguing to see how quickly disability gets drawn back in; how quickly the Supercrip image crumbles once the disabled person becomes deemed unworthy. This reveals the danger of the supercrip not only for the majority of disabled people, but also the supercrip themselves. Its speedy seizure by dis/ableist cultures exposes less how the supercrip is a true celebration of will and achievement, but more a means through which to make disability socially acceptable and palatable for non-disabled publics. Thus, if the supercrip cannot uphold their super-humanness, they succumb and are returned to connotations of monstrousness and experience social death (Longmore 2003; Hevey 1992).


I’m left wondering how to conclude this article. Of course, it inevitably brings about no change to any of the events it has made its subject. My hope is that I have not replicated the spectacle, the drama, or the sensation of Pistorius, Reeva, and the trial, but exposed the banality and triteness of gender-based violence, and the dis/ableism, racism and colonialism, gender inequality, and class which have both produced and contoured it in this case. Despite its sensationalist narrative, and the relative privilege Reeva Steenkamp had as an educated wealthy White woman in a South African context, her death is painfully and tragically ordinary. In South Africa, every one to two women killed are killed by her partner (Abrahams et al 2012), making intimate femicide a routine danger in the lives of South African women – the likelihood of which is increased by race and poverty, and I would add, disability (because this is so often omitted when we talk about multiple forms of gender-based violence) (Thiara 2011). However, it’s important not to reify this social problem as inherent only to a South African context any more than as a consequence of a “damaged” disabled masculinity. Violence against women is a global problem, as is intimate femicide (ACUNS 2013). This, for me, is the real story. Let’s hope Steenkamp’s death shines a light to this, too. It appears there only one thing left to say: Rest in Peace, Reeva.


I would like to thank Dr. Esther Ignagni, School of Disability Studies, Ryerson University and Dr. Jeff Preston, Faculty of Information and Media Studies, Western University, Ontario, for their helpful comments on earlier drafts of this article.


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Surviving ableism in Covid Times

Easy Read summary‘Only the vulnerable will be at risk… but your ‘only’ is my everything’

The quote in the title above is from a parent talking about her disabled daughter, who lives with life-threatening impairments, in the face of early public health messages that only the elderly and those with existing health conditions are most at risk of serious illness, and possibly death, from coronavirus – also known as COVID 19. Notably, such sentiments have consistently underpinned the majority of media reporting and government communication in our current time of the COVID 19 global pandemic. Such ontologically violent messages have sought to reassure an overwhelmingly anxious public at the expense and distress of some of the most vulnerable. These sentiments also shore up the everyday mundanity of dis/ableism – which I define below – social and cultural forces that actively sequester away why we culturally view vulnerability and human value in such ways in the first place.

The voices and experiences of disabled children and young people living with life-limiting and life-threatening impairments and their families are where I begin this blogpost because they sit at the very centre of our ESRC-funded project, Living Life to the Fullest. Throughout the project, disabled children and young people living precarious lives and shortened life expectancies have readily emphasised their human worth, value, and desire for the future – regardless of how long these futures might be. They have done so in disabling cultures that routinely deny them opportunity, access, and expectation. Ultimately, the aim of the project has been to highlight disabled young people’s own stories of social and political injustice at the same time as supporting the development of their counter narratives: affirmative stories that depathologise the lives of disabled children and young people and acknowledge disability life as meaningful, joyful, valued and cherished.

If you don’t know, ableism can be understood as the material, cultural and political privileging of ability, sanity, rationality, physicality and cognition (Braidotti 2013; Goodley 2014); while disablism refers to the resultant oppressive treatment of disabled people (Slater and Liddiard 2017). Disablism and ableism are often dual processes: more often than not, they work in conjunction, supporting one another (Liddiard 2018). Without doubt, we are living in deeply disablist and ableist times – even before the threat of a global pandemic. Ableism and disablism are ever present within contemporary society, where neoliberal and scientific rationalist ideologies are thriving and, currently, where global capitalism and global austerity – and now a global pandemic – are routinely highlighting the costs and therefore undermining the (human) value of disabled people.

But to speak in a more general sense, disablism and ableism have long rendered disability as abject and Other. Disabled bodies and minds are actively sequestered from public view, space and culture: segregated in education; institutionalised in hospitals, homes and treatment units; detained in mental health units; criminalised in prisons; lost through child protection systems; and excluded from the popular cultures of perfection which dominate a globalised techno-media age (see Hevey 1992). As such, disabled people have seldom ever been considered, nor treated, as ‘fully human’ (Goodley, Lawthom and Runswick-Cole 2014b). An ableist imperative deems impaired bodies and minds subsist predominantly as of lesser value and, as such, subject to a very different set of priorities than those considered ‘able’ (Liddiard 2018). It is these differences that are the subject of this blog post, where I unpack the everyday lived realities of dis/ableism in the current COVID 19 crisis for disabled and marginalised others. I ask: Where do ableism and disablism show up? Where do they determine the gravest threats to disabled people and their families? And lastly, why should we care?

Let’s start with herd immunity

Herd immunity is the concept of allowing publics to be exposed to a virus, in the hope that spreading it among those who are at low risk means that a large part of the population becomes immune. It was a strategy advocated by Boris Johnson just two weeks ago. Yet noticeably, he has since socially distanced himself from it (no pun intended…) after it was strongly refuted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Imperial College epidemiologists and virologists who demarcated it as risky, strikingly unscientific and that which only leads to higher death rates. Frey (2020; np) has argued that herd immunity is a form of epidemiological neoliberalism:

‘…herd immunity relies on the assumption that an epidemic is best overcome by leaving it unregulated. But just like neoliberalism, it results in violence against the weak and the poor: elderly and disabled people, homeless people, refugees and people with severe health conditions – many of whom are likely to also have a lower socio-economic status because of the correlation between poverty and illness.’

Frey (2020) also draws our attention to the problematics of “flattening the curve” – the idea that taking particular interventions at particular times mediates stress on struggling health systems. Yet, neoliberal policy-making has allowed health services to be chronically underfunded in the UK for over a decade. As a result, Britain has an already-low capacity to provide critical care (one of the lowest in Europe) that wouldn’t suffice ‘even with strict lockdown measures’ (Frey 2020; np). Ultimately, we are too late – healthcare would have to have been funded properly, and ethically, years prior to a pandemic to be sufficient. Playing into neoliberalism’s “blame game” – that in a free market if you’re poor, unemployed, and vulnerable that it’s ultimately your fault – means that governments place the ‘failure of the health system on the virus, rather than on bad governance’ (Frey 2020; np).

The proposed Coronavirus Bill

We can also see dis/ableism embedded in the UK’s proposed Coronavirus Bill, which sets out the sudden removal of disabled people’s (hard fought-for) rights to social care, attacking the civil liberties of disabled people and eroding their rights to support (you can read more about this here). The bill suspends every duty in the Care Act, 2014, including the duty to meet the eligible needs of disabled people (Section 18) and their carers (Section 20). Under the bill, Local Authorities will only have to provide care ‘if they consider it necessary’ for the purposes of avoiding a breach of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR). It’s important to state that there is no human right to social care or positive obligation under the ECHR to meet care needs (Living Life to the Fullest, 2020). And to return to the disabled young people’s lives at the centre of our project, the proposed Coronavirus Bill also aims to suspend Local Authorities’ duties for young people transitioning to adult social care. Parents of disabled children and young people we have spoken to in the project already stress the significant problems with transition; to remove obligations to support young people and their families is unimaginable and deeply impactful to their futures, and their access to their needs and their rights.

Moreover, the Secretary of State for Education will have power to disapply the duty on schools and other institutions to admit a child to a school where they are named on an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP). Effectively, the Secretary of State will be able to vary provisions of the act, such as the core duty to procure provision set out in an EHCP, so instead of being an absolute duty it becomes a ‘reasonable endeavours’ duty, creating a lesser entitlement for disabled children and young people for up to two years (Living Life to the Fullest, 2020). Such interventions may, to some, sound logical and understandable in the context of a global pandemic where (scarce) resources are needing to be ‘put to best use’ and Local Authorities advocate that they need flexibility and autonomy in governing funding. But we must ask critical questions as to the extent to which such responses are proportionate, necessary and ideologically driven. We also need an urgent review – and amendments tabled – as to the material impacts this has on disabled people and their families now. We must shout. One area of concern is that the powers detailed under the bill, as published, remain in force for two years, but after oppositional pressure from Labour and others (who listened to disabled people’s protestations), the government has agreed an amendment mandating a review of the measures every six months.

Which of us will get lifesaving treatment and which of us will not?

We also see dis/ableism – and the disposability of disabled and vulnerable lives – most clearly in talk, and now emergency policy, around access to health resources. A lack of resources – the numbers of critical care beds; access to ventilators; and the time and focus of medical staff – means making rational and sensible decisions about distribution. In short, which of us will get lifesaving treatment and which of us will not? Let’s be clear, such decisions are already an everyday part of healthcare, but they are typically embedded in ethics committees, multidisciplinary teams, and in consultation with patients and their families. COVID 19 means that nation states are rushing in urgent updates to existing processes. A person’s age, existing health and comorbidities – and more worryingly their ‘social usefulness’ (for example, a nurse who could go on to treat others has priority over others) – are underpinning access to resources where health systems are quickly becoming incapacitated. As Kukla (2020; np) states, ‘this is not an unusual triage decision to make in wartime or pandemics; our lives are considered, quite literally, more disposable’.

For example, the Italian College of Anesthesia, Analgesia, Resuscitation and Intensive Care has drawn up guidelines for who receives treatment, controversially rationing resources by age. The US is in the process of updating its guidance for health and care practitioners and those involved in planning and delivering services. To give a couple of examples – as identified by Ne’eman (2020; np.) in the New York Times – ‘the state of Alabama has decided that people with severe or profound intellectual disability “are unlikely candidates for ventilator support” and Tennessee has listed “people with spinal muscular atrophy who need assistance with activities of daily living among those excluded from critical care”. In response, on 18th March 2020 the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) wrote to congress, asking for a ‘prohibition on disability discrimination in the rationing of scarce medical resources’ (Town, 2020). Perplexingly, Italian guidelines prioritise those who have the highest likelihood of survival and who ‘could enjoy the largest number of life-years saved’ [emphasis added]. It goes without saying that we must also question the deeply ableist assumptions that inevitably underpin notions of ‘enjoyment of life’.

And in the UK, new NICE guidelines announced on Friday (20th March; NG 159) bring together existing national and international guidance and policies and advice from specialists working in the NHS from across the UK. These new NICE guidelines state that on admission to hospital, medical professionals will assess all adults for frailty (irrespective of age and COVID‑19 status); consider comorbidities and underlying health conditions; and use the Clinical Frailty Scale (CFS) – originally developed for dementia – for frailty assessment. They will then record the frailty assessment in the patient’s medical record (1.1 NICE Guidelines, March 2020). In order to decide admission to critical care, new NICE guidelines advocate discussion of ‘the risks, benefits and possible likely outcomes of the different treatment options with patients, families and carers using decision support tools (where available) so that they can make informed decisions about their treatment wherever possible’ (2.1 NICE Guidelines, March 2020). We must question the feasibility of this in chaotic hospital departments that are under-resourced, under-staffed and overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of people needing life saving support.

Measuring human worth and value

Furthermore, the Clinical Frailty Scale is a deeply troubling measurement of human worth and value. Yet NICE places it at the centre of admission to critical care in the current pandemic. In short, a score of 5 or below makes you more likely to access critical care, while a score of 6 or above makes this less likely. Medical professionals must ‘take into account the impact of underlying pathologies, comorbidities and severity of acute illness on the likelihood of critical care treatment achieving the desired outcome’ (2.2 NICE Guidelines, March 2020). I want to be clear here, and state that this is by no means a criticism of medical professionals and hospital staff who are on the frontlines doing incredible work in an unimaginable and unprecedented situation. These are professionals readily sacrificing their own health, without proper support from the UK government in the form of access to COVID 19 testing and the personal protective equipment (PPE) needed to keep them safe in their vital work of saving others. Without doubt, this is also a deep injustice.

But, my point here is to make visible the inherent ableism that determines whether someone lives or dies based on the support they require in everyday life. For example, how did we get to the point where ‘frailty’ that ‘impairs shopping, walking outside alone, meal preparation and housework’ (#5 CFS) is integral to human value? And where those who ‘often have problems with stairs and need help with bathing and might need minimal assistance with dressing’ (#6 CFS) have less of a right to survival than those who are deemed ‘robust, active, energetic and motivated’ (#1 CFS)? We must also include learning disabled people here, too – that someone who is physically well, but who needs support for daily living, is also subject to these troubling and crude judgements about the quality and worthiness of human life. In his recent blog post, Hatton (2020) discusses the potential implications for people with learning disabilities if they get COVID-19 and need to go to hospital. He argues that ‘there is really no evidence that any frailty measure is applicable to adults across the age range, including people with learning disabilities’ and that ‘the consequences of the blanket application of a frailty measure in these circumstances for people with learning disabilities worry me greatly’:

‘For example, on this scale I think anyone with profound and multiple learning disabilities would at best be rated 7 (Severely Frail) on this scale. And perhaps pretty much any adult with learning disabilities who has jumped the eligibility hurdle for long-term adult social care support (around 150,000 people in England alone) – and maybe all children with severe or profound multiple learning difficulties with an EHCP (around 40,000 children in England) – would be rated at best as 5 (Mildly Frail).

Hatton (2020; np) also makes the point that, for learning disabled people, who may enter hospital without support (for example a family member or carer who isn’t allowed to be with them), such discussions are likely to be inaccessible, and thus people are at further risk when ‘acquiescent to suggestions put to them by health professionals in a position of authority at a time of great stress’. To once again evidence that this current situation is constant flux, just two hours after this paragraph was written – again due to the protestations of disabled people – NICE updated their COVID 19 guidelines to stress that people with “stable” impairments like Cerebral Palsy and people with learning disabilities and/or autism would not be measured by the CFS upon entering hospital. You can read about these developments here. Such hurried updates once again emphasise the dangers of speed when applying scales of human value in such uncertain times.


To conclude, this blogpost has been written in a purposeful haste, to ensure that sociological and critical disability studies’ critiques are responsive and emergent in this uncertain time. Activist scholarship and public sociology (Burowoy 2013) are always valuable, but become critical in precarious times; a form of legitimate social action. Inevitably, then, there is plenty more to say, particularly where governmental responses to the pandemic are changing by the day. But I want to end by stressing my sadness that, as a disabled person, yet again, disabled people, our allies, and communities need to take urgent action to humanise ourselves and our lives, particularly with and for those deemed the most vulnerable amongst us. We must emphasise that we are valuable and valued human beings. That we have meaningful lives worth protecting and saving. That we are at risk as much from disablism and ableism as we are COVID 19. And that being vulnerable does not equate with being less than human. That the patient who scored above #6 on the Clinical Frailty Scale is someone’s child, mother, father, sibling, lover, employer, neighbour, friend and/or carer; possibly yours. That, ultimately, ableism – both inside and outside the precarious context of crisis – readily dehumanises and demarcates our lives as disposable.



Braidotti, R. (2013) The Posthuman. UK: Polity Press

Frey, I. (2020) ‘“Herd Immunity” is Epidemiological Neoliberalism’,The Quarantimes.Online. Available from: [Accessed] 19/3/2020

Goodley, D. (2014) Dis/ability Studies. Theorising Disablism and Ableism. London: Routledge

Goodley, D., Lawthom, R., and Runswick-Cole, K. (2014b) ‘Posthuman Disability Studies’, Subjectivity, 7: 4, 342–361, DOI: 10.1057/sub.2014.15

Hatton, C. (2020) COVID-19, people with learning disabilities, and NICE Guideline 150 on critical care. Online. Available from: [Accessed 23/3/2020]

Hevey, D. (1992) The Creatures Time Forgot: Photography and Disability Imagery. London: Routledge

Kukla (2020) My Life Is More ‘Disposable’ During This Pandemic. New York Times, March 19, 2020:

Liddiard, K (2018) The Intimate Lives of Disabled People. London and New York: Routledge (ISBN 978-1-4094-6090-9)

Living Life to the Fullest (2020) Disabled People and the Coronavirus Bill, March 20, 2020:

Ne’eman, A. (2020) ‘I Will Not Apologize for My Needs’. New York Times, March 23, 2020:

NICE. COVID-19 rapid guideline: critical care, March 2020. Online. Available from [Accessed 23/3/2020]

Liddiard, K. and Slater, J. (2017) “Like, pissing yourself is not a particularly attractive quality, let’s be honest”: Learning to Contain through Youth, Adulthood, Disability and Sexuality’, Sexualities Special Issue: Disability and Sexual Corporeality, 21:3, 319-333

Town, M. (2020) Letter to Congress. March 18, 2020:


Reflecting on baby loss, hope, and injustice in research

Nearing the end of the year makes most of us reflective. What sort of year have we had? What hopes do we have for the next? Have we achieved all that we wanted to, or thought we might, at the beginning of the year? How might what we have worked on or developed throughout the year roll into the next, and relate to our future work?

To reflect, then, work-wise 2018 has been a relatively positive year for me. Our key ESRC-funded project, Living Life to the Fullest, which seeks to forge new understandings of the lives, hopes, desires and contributions of disabled children and young people labelled with ‘life-limiting’ or ‘life-threatening’ impairments, has gone from strength to strength. We have established a vital Co-researcher Collective of dynamic young disabled women – who I love working with – that is co-leading the project. We have presented collaboratively at conferences. Together, we have made a short documentary film about the power and meaning of co-production as necessary research politics and practice when working with marginalised young people. We have won ESRC Festival of Social Sciences funding and subsequently hosted a successful event led by the Co-Researcher Collective in Sheffield. We have co-authored exciting articles about co-production with young people and the meaning of posthuman theory in short/er lives (Liddiard et al. in press; Aimes et al. forthcoming). We have also co-written and submitted a book proposal. And, lastly, we have spent a lot of time building strong relationships with external partners and community organisations that will enable us to continue our project next year with gusto.

Outside of Living Life to the Fullest, I have also succeeded in other areas of my academic and activist work. My book – The Intimate Lives of Disabled People (Liddiard 2018) – has received a really positive reception. This has been from other scholars who have read, cited and reviewed it (see Bahner 2018); from organisations that have been in touch to tell me how it has contributed to their provision and thinking around the sexual and intimate lives of disabled people; and most importantly, from disabled people, who have tweeted, messaged or emailed to say it is reflective of their own experiences. Excitingly, next year Routledge is to release a second edition in paperback.

Personally, however, this year has been a very difficult one. My partner and I have lost two babies – in the space of a year that has felt like a lifetime. Babies that were loved and wanted and cherished far before they were even conceived. Babies for whom we had great hopes, dreams and wishes; personhoods actively constructed from the moment we saw those bright pink lines (Layne 2000). Babies we thought – and felt – were growing and thriving until scans revealed those dreaded words: “I’m so sorry, I can’t find a heartbeat”. Babies whose only photos are grainy 12-week scans, taken when they’ve already died, but still proudly in frames by my bedside. Babies who will always be, but never really were. Babies for whom we never got the chance to build a cot but instead a memorial bench. Babies for whom my love will last a lifetime; as Jeffries (1998) reflects:

‘I will remember you in so few ways it hurts. Because I never knew you. And yet you were real and alive in me. I wish I could hold on to something about you. I wish I could show everyone how real you were to me. So then you would be real to them. And then they would know, as I do, that we’ve all lost someone special in you’.

Something I have learned in our project Living Life to the Fullest, which inherently relates these experiences, is that longevity of life often bears little relation to its meaning, to yourself or to intimate others: loved ones, family, and friends. Short lives, regardless of how short they actually may be, are often vital, desired, and valued – powerful relations into which love and intimacy fall like loose stones off a cliff. Yet, culturally, short lives are devalued: considered “lesser lives”. As Garland-Thompson (2012: 351) argues, ‘…a life trajectory that is unpredictable or uncontrollable is anathema to our liberal modern ethic of self-determination, design, and freedom’. In Living Life to the Fullest, when hearing the stories of young disabled people through arts-informed and narrative methods, we seek to disrupt such dominant neoliberal-able (Goodley 2014) fantasies surrounding lifespan, quality of life, and productivity as the root of human worth.

Importantly, as a project, Living Life to the Fullest has a focus on futurity embedded in an affirmative politics of disability – acknowledging disability as both valued and valuable: that which can bring new perspectives to a world obsessed with reifying normalcy and eradicating difference. Yet, death, dying, fragility and grief remain important aspects of our project, both for disabled young people labelled with life-limiting and life-threatening conditions and their families. My interviews with parents who are raising children they may outlive, or parents who have already lost their children, are interwoven with my own recent experiences of loss. Rather than add to my emotional labour as a researcher (Dickson-Smith et al. 2009; Woodby et al. 2011; Davidson 2011), my own experiences embed a sense of understanding and solidarity with other parents. I am hearing their stories in new ways, through a sort of ‘collective affinity’ (Kafer 2013). Their stories take on a new meaning for me as I work my way through an aching grief that doesn’t seem to abate.

As a side-note, another thing I have learned is how incredibly common baby loss is, but how rarely it is ever spoken about, particularly in employment contexts (in my case, the Academy). According to the NHS, 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage. On losing my second baby, I was purposefully open with colleagues about why I was taking time away from work, why I couldn’t attend that meeting, event or symposium, and why I might not be back for a while. Being so open invited unexpected responses. While the majority of responses to my news were supportive and full of care and concern, I was deeply surprised by just how many colleagues got in touch to say: “It happened to me” (see Bansen & Stevens, 1992). A couple of women, who I don’t work particularly closely with, shared with me recent experiences of multiple miscarriages this year alone. Silent acts of solidarity and care; private messages that have punctured the loneliness that can accompany grief, particularly in the context of baby loss. I started to understand my openness as a feminist and political act: a means to expose our cultural struggles with death, loss, and the ‘failure’ of the body as it relates to pregnancy loss (see Layne 2000); to normalise what is a desperately common experience for many people; and to legitimise the (short) lives of my babies who I will sadly never get to know. Inadvertently, as a disabled woman, this is also identity work: publically foregrounding a maternal subjectivity that is routinely denied to disabled women (Liddiard 2018; Thomas 1997).

This act of ‘telling’ also exposes the problematics of the Academy and research as spaces devoid of emotion. In reality, our own lives and emotional selves are typically embedded in our scholarly practice; as Dickson-Smith et al. (2009: 61) suggest, ‘undertaking qualitative research is an embodied experience and that researchers may be emotionally affected by the work that they do’. At the same time, our emotional selves are woven into our practice as we live through our work and work through our lives. Rather than this be problematic – as positivist and masculinist research frameworks which affirm ‘power distance, hierarchy and expertise’ (Arvidson 2013: 282) suggest – as relational and intimate subjects, emotions within the process become ‘vital experiences which move us into learning and understanding more about others, ourselves, and our world’ (Busier et al. 1997: 165). In Living Life to the Fullest, we have found that emotion and intimacies are productive and generative towards human understanding and, in the case of our project, enable an ethical interpretation of data ground in social justice and disabled people’s liberation.

Another thing I have learned this year is that grief isn’t only related to death and dying, but many different forms of loss and injustice. A prevalent form of grief that threads through Living Life to the Fullest – most notably through young people’s stories – are the ways in which ableism and disablism mediate their everyday lives, selves and relationships with others. While disablism might refer to the ‘exclusion of people with impairments and the undermining of psycho-emotional wellbeing’, ableism refers to the ‘promotion of forms of (hyper) cognition, competitiveness, and consumerism that disabled and non-disabled people are expected to judge themselves against’ (Liddiard and Goodley 2017: 3). These cultural doctrines deeply touch the lives of the disabled young people we have worked with this year. In the project, young people are telling us that others’ low expectations of them; an endemic lack of supportive service provision; the infantilising and restrictive systems that govern their lives; poor access to the usual spaces and places that most young people live, love and learn; and worries about futures steeped in the painful and unbaiting legacies of austerity politics, are powerfully impacting the ways in which they consider both their present and future. This grief – social and political injustice – is the most important to disabled young people in our project. Our hope is that by listening to and working with disabled children and young people and their families to share their own stories, we are exposing these common experiences of prejudice, inequality and injustice. Yet, collectively, we are also supporting the generation of counter narratives: affirmative stories that depathologise the lives of disabled children and young people and demarcate (disabled) lives as meaningful, joyful, valued and cherished.

In this way, storytelling embodies the practice of a politics of hope. It is through sharing our stories, then, that hope can live (Whitney 2018). Hope can ease suffering and aid survival; it can offer alternative futures and the opportunities to imagine or envisage them; and it can make the everyday possible, as well as political. As such, and in memory of my babies, I want to end this blog with the words of William Blake, taken from his poem Auguries of Innocence:

‘To see a world in a grain of Sand And a Heaven in a Wild Flower, hold Infinity in the palm of your hand And Eternity in an hour’.

(Blake, Auguries of Innocence, 1970: 1803–4)

Picture of a bench with an engraved plaque that reads: 'It's a happy life and someone is missing'.


Thanks go to the NHS staff members that have supported me this year – most notably the nurses at the Early Pregnancy Assessment Unit at the Royal Calderdale Hospital, West Yorkshire.

Big thanks to Dan (Goodley) and Katherine (Runswick-Cole) and the Living Life to the Fullest Co-Researcher Collective for their endless support and kindness; and, of course, to The Kid and The Boy for always being there.


  • Aimes, C., Evans, K., Goodley, D., Liddiard, K., Runswick-Cole, K., Spurr, R., Vogelmann, E., Watts (MBE), L., Whitney, S. (submitted) ‘Working the edges of Posthuman disability studies: Theorising with young disabled people with life-limiting impairments’, Sociology of Health and Illness.
  • Arvidson, M (2013) ‘Ethics, intimacy and distance in longitudinal, qualitative research: Experiences from Reality Check Bangladesh’, Progress in Development Studies, 13: 4, 279–293
  • Bahner, J. (2018) Book Review: Kirsty Liddiard, The Intimate Lives of Disabled People, Routledge: London. Sexualities, 0: 0, 1–2
  • Bansen, S.S. & Stevens, H.A. (1992) ‘Women’s experiences of miscarriage in early pregnancy’, Journal of Nursing and Midwifery, 37: 2, 84-90.
  • Blake, William (1970 [1803–4]) ‘Auguries of Innocence’, in A Choice of Blake’s Verse, edited by Kathleen Raine, pp. 31–5. London: Faber and Faber.
  • Busier, Holly-Lynn; Clark, Kelly A.; Esch, Rebecca A.; Glesne, Corrine; Pigeon, Yvette & Tarule, Jill M. (1997) ‘Intimacy in research’, International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 10: 2, 165-170.
  • Davidson, D. (2011) ‘Reflections on Doing Feminist Research Grounded in my Experience of Perinatal Loss: From Auto/biography to Autoethnography’, Sociological Research Online, 16: 1. Available from: [Accessed 28/11/2018]
  • Dickson-Smith, V. et al. (2009) ‘Researching Sensitive Topics: Qualitative Research as Emotion Work’, Qualitative Research, 9: 1, 61–79
  • Garland-Thompson, R. (2012) ‘The case for conserving disability’, Bioethical Inquiry, 9, 339-355
  • Goodley, D. (2014) Dis/ability Studies. Theorising Disablism and Ableism. London: Routledge
  • Jefferies, L. M. (1998) ‘Little Babe’, Unite Notes, 18: 2, 1
  • Kafer, A. (2013) Feminist Queer Crip. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press
  • Layne, L.L. (2000) ‘‘He was a real baby with baby things’: A Material Culture Analysis of Personhood, Parenthood and Pregnancy Loss’, Journal of Material Culture, 5: 3, 321–345
  • Liddiard, K (2018) The Intimate Lives of Disabled People. London and New York: Routledge
  • Liddiard, K., Runswick-Cole, K, Goodley, D., Whitney, S., Vogelmann, E. and Watts, L. (in press) ‘”I was excited by the idea of a project that focuses on those unasked questions”: Co-Producing Disability Research with Disabled Young People’, Children and Society.
  • Liddiard, K. and Goodley, D. (2017). Disability and impairment. In B.Turner et al (Eds). Encyclopedia of Social Theory. London: Wiley
  • Thomas, C. (1997) ‘The baby and the bath water: disabled women and motherhood in social context’, Sociology of Health & Illness, 19: 5, 622-643
  • Whitney, S. (2018) Disability and Faith. Online. Available from: [Accessed 28/11/2018]
  • Woodby, L., Williams, B. R., Wittich, A. R. and Burgio, K. L. (2011) ‘Expanding the Notion of Researcher Distress: The Cumulative Effects of Coding’, Qualitative Health Research, 21: 6, 830–838





Sexuality, representation and disability arts and culture

Over the last couple of months I’ve been working on multiple new projects that centre sexuality, intimacy, representation and disability arts and culture. Below, I share links to blog posts about each of these pieces of work.

Rewriting Sex Education, iHuman blog, June 22nd 2018

Image of Scotia Works, Sheffield

Scotia Works, Sheffield

Rethinking Disability: Emmerdale, Medium: Society Matters, Sept 4th 2018

Image of Emmerdale title scene


Exchanging Knowledge through Creative Practice: What do disability arts and culture mean to you? Medium: SoE Research, Oct 5th 2018

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Critical Conversations towards disability justice

The Crip, The Fat and The Ugly in an Age of Austerity: Resistance, Reclamation and Affirmation 

Journal snapshot Kirsty and Jen

This month has been full of critical conversations towards disability justice – that which ‘has the power to not only challenge our thinking about access but to fundamentally change the way we understand organizing and how we fight for social change’ (Mingus, 2011) – in various guises. Firstly, I’m proud to say that the Special Issue of Review of Disability Studies (RDS) Jen Slater, Sheffield Hallam, and I have worked on, along with many brilliant article authors, has recently been published.

Our Special Issue entitled, The Crip, The Fat and The Ugly in an Age of Austerity: Resistance, Reclamation and Affirmation (Vol. 14, No. 2), invited contributions that troubled the impacts of neoliberal austerity upon the bodies and minds of marginalised others:

Our original desire in putting out this call was to critically explore the processes and politics of austerity upon diverse and marginalized embodiments in neoliberal and advanced capitalist times. Global austerity has a far reach, often into, around, behind, beyond and alongside the body. Global austerity routinely categorizes body-minds[i] in terms of productivity, value, cost, ability and aesthetics. Body-minds are positioned vis-a-vis global austerity as a site for social order, economic possibility, progression, and big business. Whereas “[a]n able body is the body of a citizen; deformed deafened, amputated, obese, female, perverse, crippled, maimed and blinded bodies do not make up the body politic” (Davis, 1995, pp. 71–72). In devising this forum, we yearned for space to contemplate the aesthetics, experiences and the reification of body-minds – how capitalism makes sense of and shapes body-minds; the ways in which austerity both marks and produces bodies and selves, and the means through which these are further shaped by disability, race, class, gender, age, size, sexuality, and nation. Although we explore aspects of these in our own work (Liddiard, 2018; Slater, 2015), we wanted to create a space to connect with others and think about diverse and marginalized embodiments in austere times. In this introduction, we story the process through which we put the issue together, from our original decision making and putting out the call, to supporting authors to revise their contributions. We do so because we feel it’s a fitting way to speak to the inclusions and exclusions made in this forum. At the same time, we feel it offers a broader commentary as to the “state” of global disability studies today’.

Slater and Liddiard (2018)

We had the following intriguing and insightful contributions from an exciting collection of authors:

  • My Infectious Encounters as an Autistic Epidemic, Jessica L. Benham (2018)
  • Reclaiming the Margins in the Face of the Quantified Self, Gabi Schaffzin (2018)
  • NoBody’s Perfect: Charm, Willfulness and Resistance, Maria Tsakiri (2018)
  • Working to Feel Better or Feeling Better to Work? Discourses of Wellbeing in Austerity Reality TV, Rowan Voirrey Sandle, Katy Day, Tom Muskett (2018)

Unfortunately, the Review of Disability Studies operates behind a paywall, so if you would like access to these articles or our introductory essay, please get in touch:

Disabled Under-18s: Rights to Online Information/Communication about Sexual Relationships, European Children’s Rights Unit, University of Liverpool

On Wednesday 13th June, I was invited to speak to the European Children’s Rights Unit at the Liverpool Law School, University of Liverpool. I spoke about my research on the intimate lives of disabled people, and more specifically, the ways in which online spaces, cultures and worlds can serve as sites of access to love, sex and intimacy for disabled young people. In addition, I shared the ways in which our current ESRC arts-informed co-produced project, Life, Death, Disability and the Human: Living Life to the Fullest is centring online methods of inquiry and virtual research leadership in ways that are enabling young disabled people with shorter lives to co-lead research that is about their lives and futures.

Using stories from my new book, The Intimate Lives of Disabled People (2018, Routledge), I emphasised online and virtual worlds as potential accessible spaces that offer opportunities to build identity, and access community and emerging forms of cyber-citizenship. My contributions asked vital questions of future inquiry on the intersections of disability, children’s and young people’s rights, and their sexual and intimate citizenship. For example, how can online spaces, cultures and worlds open up more radical or emancipatory forms of sexual citizenship and selfhood for young disabled people, and how might we support young people to access these?

Attendees included academics and researchers, education professionals from mainstream and SEND schools, representatives from Brook and other sex, youth and disability organisations, and community members and activists. The aim now is to further build the critical dialogues that emerged into planning for future research – so watch this space!

To follow the European Children’s Rights Unit on Twitter, see @LIVEChildRights



  • Davis, L. (1995). Enforcing normalcy: Disability, deafness, and the body. London and New York: Verso.
  • Liddiard, K. (2018). The intimate lives of disabled people. Abingdon: Routledge.
  • Mingus, M. (2011) Changing the Framework:Disability Justice. Online. Available from: [Accessed 14/6/2018]
  • Slater, J. (2015). Youth and disability: A challenge to Mr Reasonable. Interdisciplinary Disability Studies. London and New York: Routledge.

I can hold it in my hands…

Today is a really exciting day – my first book has just been delivered and it’s a Real Thing that I can hold in my hands. My excitement is probably a bit silly, really, but I never thought it would/could be something I could complete, but now it’s just casually sat on my desk: a lovely and glossy version of some serious blood, sweat and (many) tears, and even more years. In this post I want to share the book’s preface, as a means to introduce it and story the process…



Preface (pgs. viii-x)

“Right, imagine you’re in Toronto in a bar. You’re pissed (drunk), but not too pissed. How would you explain your research to someone?” This was the first question put to me by my then-external examiner, Professor Dan Goodley, in my viva voce (the thesis defense for North American readers). Thoughts of the viva had made my blood run cold for nigh on three years, but as soon as I heard that question, I knew all would be well. As someone who has since examined others’ PhDs, I now see that was the point! But up until the viva, my PhD had been an empirical research project, which I had painfully “written up” as a doctoral thesis. It is thanks to both of my examiners, then, Dan Goodley and Cath Lambert, and their suggestion that my thesis already was a book, which caused it to be written at all.

I wrote most of my thesis from the tiny back room at my Mum and Dad’s house – my partner and I had moved in with them, after years of having our own place, to save enough money to emigrate to Canada so that I could undertake the inaugural Ethel Louise Armstrong Postdoctoral Fellowship at the School of Disability Studies, Ryerson University. I had seen the advert randomly in the oddly warm spring of 2011 on the Disability Research Discussion email list run out of the Centre for Disability Research at Leeds. Upon seeing it, I immediately rang The Boy (my partner) and said, “You could live in Canada, right?” Instantly he replied, “Go on then”. At that point, both of us would have struggled to point to Toronto on a map. Within a month I had applied for the position, survived a telephone interview, and had got the job. Within two months we had packed up our little home, and moved into the “granny annex” at Mum and Dad’s, where they very kindly brought me cups of tea as I wrote. My father proofread every single page. A reserved English fellow – a man who oft-takes the British stiff upper lip to the extreme – confessed me so much love and support with every slash of his red pen through my terrible grammar. We were to leave for Canada in January 2012, with me submitting my thesis in December 2011. I had just 8 months to complete writing, and I did.

Turning my PhD thesis into this book has not been nearly as quick and easy: it has been an enormous challenge. I have struggled. Like so many ‘early career’ scholars, I have found the Academy a precarious place to work, which has meant shelving writing on more than a few occasions, despite lots of support from colleagues, friends and allies. I have also found the (neoliberal) Academy relatively precarious to ones sense of self and wellness, particularly in terms of self-confidence and esteem. Disablism, ableism and the Academy can be a toxic combination at times, and can erode self-confidence. As a disabled woman, gender and disability can intersect in ways that encourage an attrition of self-belief and pride, which gets magnified by the hypercompetitive and disabling environment that is higher education in the UK. Regardless, it is this shortage of confidence that proffers the (also helpful) “disclaimer” below.

What this book isn’t…

This book isn’t a grandiose theoretical text, but a reporting of empirical research. This is not because I undervalue the transformative potential of theory, or that this book is atheoretical. As Braidotti (2013) says, if we can’t do theory then we are really just drowning in hard data; or as Goodley (2014) affirms, we should be able to draw upon social theory without apology. As both a disability studies scholar and a disabled woman it is crucial for me to continually locate the lived and material realities of disability life into my theoretical re-workings. As such, the politics of location are very vital to my work (see chapter 3). While I relish postconventional theory, at times I am unapologetically materialist: acknowledging that the richness of the stories in this book emanate from an understanding that they are lived, felt, experienced, and ground in the mundane and everyday. Sometimes this brings inconsistencies and tensions. Instead of making attempts to write these out, I purposefully write them in and – as Mike Gill (2015: 8) artfully puts it – ‘eagerly await challenges, complications, and expansions of my work here by others’.

This book isn’t an all-encompassing text that covers all facets of sexual and intimate life: what is contained within the covers of this book emerges only from the stories disabled informants told. Informants were predominantly (though not exclusively) White British, cisgender and heterosexual, and identified as having physical and/or sensory impairment. All lived within the community, although many had experienced institutionalisation in one way or another in the past and/or frequented respite care in hospices in the present. Therefore, the stories I interpret in this book are inherently shaped by these intersections, experiences and histories. They are further shaped by the context of doctoral research. Doctoral research is bound by time (UK PhD students have a maximum of 3 years and 3 months before funding stops), a (lack of) money and the emerging research skills of a PhD candidate, all of which I’m sure are imprinted on these sexual stories in some way. Further, the intimate politics of sexual storytelling in marginalised communities means that I am rightfully imbricated within and through these stories. In short, this book is also piece of me: as a researcher, scholar, and disabled woman; it speaks to my life as well as the lives of informants.

This book isn’t a complete lesson in co-production. While I am very proud that the doctoral research that underpins this book made use of participatory methods, being guided by a Research Advisory Group made up of local disabled people (or ‘The Rag’ as they preferred to be known…), this participation was not a co-production in the purest or fullest sense. As a then-doctoral student, I was yet to discover and immerse myself fully in the democratisation of research as a collaborative and collective process, which has later become my passion as a scholar and researcher (see; see also Runswick-Cole, Curran, and Liddiard, in press).

What this book is…

This book is a collection of stories: stories of intimacy, affection, care, eroticism, desire and love, as well as stories of pain, oppression, exclusion, denial, and abjection and rejection. It contains a faithful disabled feminist analysis (ground in social and intimate justice) of sexual and intimate life in times of extensive disablism and ableism. It offers a narrative thematic analysis of sexual stories that shed light on areas of disability, love and life typically overlooked and ignored.

Importantly, this book is an accessible piece of writing. In disability studies I have come to see accessible writing as strength, a skill, and a quality that is necessary in order to speak to a range of communities and publics. I hope this book is accessible and readable. There are accessible versions of much of its contents on my website that are free to access ( and I offer an accessible summary at the beginning of each chapter.

Finally, this book is a snapshot in time. The sociological research upon which this book is based took place across England, UK, between 2008 and 2011. If I were to carry out this research now, as I write in 2017, my approach, my relationships with disabled informants, and my analysis would likely be different. It’s been almost five years since the research ended and 8 years since it began. I’m different. The world is different: a global financial crisis has happened; a cruel UK Liberal Democrat and Conservative Coalition Government has been and gone; an even crueler Tory-majority government has emerged in its place. As if these weren’t enough, more recently Brexit and Trump have emerged as the inevitable-but-toxic results of a lying, scaremongering mistrustful establishment; a corrupt corporate Right Wing Press; and interminable global austerity. Each of these global events has happened since the research was carried out and each has understandably left its mark on disabled people’s individual and collective lives and selves, largely in devastating ways (Goodley, Lawthom, and Runswick-Cole 2014). As such, disabled people’s rights and access to civil, emotional, intimate and cultural life is different. Thus, this book can only ever be a snapshot in time, but this is not to say that its contents are no longer relevant. Far from it, the stories contained within these covers have much to tell us about access to love, life, and self in the shadows of disablism and ableism – all of which connect deeply to the current state of disability life in the global step to the Right (Goodley et al. 2017: 3): conditions for living which define the current era as a time of great precarity for many people, but particularly marginalised others.

If you would like to purchase my book, please see here

Book cover


Having the opportunity to undertake the Ethel Louise Armstrong Postdoctoral Fellowship  from 2012-2014 changed my life. It influenced my scholarship, my activism and ignited my passion for disability art and culture (getting to live in Toronto also helped…) You can read about the scholar-activist project I undertook during the Fellowship here and other research I collaborated on here. I cannot recommend it highly enough. You’ll have opportunities to work with people so wonderful and brilliant to boot, you’ll remember it forever… and you’ll keep going back and back. Check out the information below and consider applying.

The Opportunity

The School of Disability Studies in the Faculty of Community Services at Ryerson University invites applications for the Ethel Louise Armstrong Post-Doctoral Fellowship in Disability Studies. With a gift from the Ethel Louise Armstrong Foundation, this fellowship was established to further the scholarly contributions of disabled women. It is intended for a disabled woman who has completed doctoral studies within the past five (5) years in any discipline that advances scholarship related to Disability Studies.

Established in 1999, the School of Disability Studies at Ryerson University was the first in Canada to offer degree education rooted solely in a disability studies perspective. This part-time degree completion program targets learners with previous education and experience in disability–related fields. We offer a distinctive undergraduate program that illuminates the extent to which the lives of disabled people are shaped by patterns of injustice, exclusion, discrimination and the rule of social, cultural and aesthetic ‘norms’. Our program does not teach about disability; rather, it begins in/from disability to teach about social and material worlds. For further information on the School of Disability Studies, please see the following:


Blog –  Vision, Passion, Action –

Facebook Group –

Twitter – @DS_Ryerson

Instagram – DS_Ryerson

Our current Academic Plan is available upon request.


Based in the School of Disability Studies at Ryerson, the incumbent will be expected to:

• enhance and expand the scholarship of the School as a site for disability/Deaf/Mad studies

• design and implement a relevant program of research and publication

• seek opportunities for collaborative research and publication

• deliver an annual public lecture on her research

• engage with and contribute to the collegial life in and around the School

• write interim and final reports on fellowship achievements

This call is for a two-year term beginning September 2018. Applications can be made at any time with a closing date of March 1, 2018.

The fellowship awards a starting salary of $45,000 plus benefits.


The candidate will have completed a PhD (or expect to do so by September 2018) and is expected to participate fully in the academic life of the School of Disability Studies.

Candidates must have a demonstrated commitment to upholding the values of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion as it pertains to all activities related to the Fellowship.

Equity at Ryerson University

At the intersection of mind and action, Ryerson is on a transformative path to become Canada’s leading comprehensive innovation university. Integral to this path is the placement of equity, diversity and inclusion as fundamental to our institutional culture. The university’s current academic plan outlines each as core values and we work to embed them in all that we do.

Ryerson University welcomes those who have demonstrated a commitment to upholding the values of equity, diversity, and inclusion and will assist us to expand our capacity for diversity in the broadest sense. In addition, to correct the conditions of disadvantage in employment in Canada, we encourage applications from members of groups that have been historically disadvantaged and marginalized, including First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples, Indigenous peoples of North America, racialized persons, disabled people, and those who identify as women and/or 2SLGBTQ+.

As an employer, we are working towards a people first culture and are proud to have been selected as one of Canada’s Best Diversity Employers and a Greater Toronto’s Top Employer for both 2015 and 2016. To learn more about our work environment, colleagues, leaders, students and innovative educational environment, visit, check out @RyersonU, @RyersonHR and @RyersonEDI on Twitter, and visit our LinkedIn company page.

How to apply?

To apply, please submit the following:

• A letter of application that describes the focus of your work including an articulation of how you are situated in relation to Disability Studies;

• Outline for a two-year program of activity that will advance Disability Studies scholarship

• A curriculum vitae

• 2 recent publications and/or creative product relevant to the application

• Names of 3 individuals who may be contacted for reference letters.

Please indicate in your application if you are a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident of Canada.

Please send your application materials and any inquiries about the award via email to:

Dr. Kathryn Church

Director and Associate Professor

School of Disability Studies

Ryerson University

The selection process will include an interview. If you are short-listed, we will be in touch to discuss your preferences for the ways in which that conversation will take place.

Candidates from Indigenous communities who would like to learn more about Ryerson University are welcome to contact Ms. Tracey King, M.Ed., Aboriginal HR Consultant, Aboriginal Recruitment and Retention Initiative, at

350 Victoria Street t: 416.979.5000, ext. 4591

Office: 99 Gerrard Street East, 5th Floor f: 416.598.5953

Toronto, ON, Canada  M5B 2K3

Thinking about loss

This week, for various reasons, I have been thinking about loss and the Academy. As a result this post is a bit of a melancholic ramble, but it was cathartic to write and I hope has some value. I want to begin to consider how loss and grief takes shape in the Academy; where there is space for it, and where it is closed down. For who/m and what are we allowed to grieve and who/m and what are we not? This is related to how we locate and make space for emotion in our work – how academic structures, which are built upon Humanist histories of rationality and reason, render emotion and feeling as excess. In my own research and scholarship, I follow Burkitt (2012: 458), conceptualizing emotion and feeling not as barriers ‘to clear reflexive thought’ but as necessary forms of affective labour for reflexivity itself. In this short post, I consider some recent and not-so-recent losses.

Today (Monday 20th November) is International Transgender Day of Remembrance – a time to remember those who have had their lives taken away from them, largely in deeply distressing and violent ways. It should be a time to reflect upon where violence ends, where it culminates – the tragic loss of a life – but also where it begins: in the subtle (and not-so-subtle) violences to which trans people are subjected as routine every day. As someone who knows, loves and cares for a trans person, it’s a time to pause and think about how we might be complicit (largely through silence) in these violences: some of us knowingly and consciously. In HE it’s time to think about how our disciplines, networks, offices, lectures and academic events reify or respond to transphobia: do we counter transphobia as routine where we come across it? Do cis academics and researchers take the time to learn and understand what transphobia looks like, or its effects – in the Academy and outside of it? How might we, as researchers and scholars, unpack the transphobia that often comes in the form of seemingly ‘reasonable’ and ‘rational’ arguments – most recently around childhood, medicalisation and future?

I’ve also been reflecting on another serious loss of life: the publication of an analysis in BMJ Open entitled, Effects of health and social care spending constraints on mortality in England: a time trend analysis (2017). This analysis confirms what many of us have known for a long time. What disability activists and allies have been saying for ages – through their cries of “cuts kill” – is that cruel Tory austerity politics, an amoral ideology that routinely dehumanises so many, has taken the lives of (almost) too many disabled, sick and ill people to count. According to The Independent, the research ‘found that there were 45,000 more deaths in the first four years of Tory-led efficiencies than would have been expected if funding had stayed at pre-election levels’ (Matthews-King 2017). As disability studies proponents and activists, how do we both stand against and mourn this loss of life? The Independent has called it ‘economic murder’, which doesn’t quite embrace the scale nor the depth of the loss: people’s loved ones; children; friends; and neighbours. These are lives lost through people being so scared and harassed by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) that they take their own life. These are lives lost via the worsening or progression of existing illness and sickness that is inevitable when one is under siege by the government. These are lives lost through abhorrent cuts to health and social care; critical services upon which we all know many depend. Lost sounds so careless; these are stolen lives.

In a week of so much loss, it’s natural to look inwards to our own lives, loves and losses. I’ve been preoccupied thinking about the publication of my book (Liddiard 2018), and its dedication to my aunt – a woman who inspired me in so many ways, with her talent and flair, as well as the endless love that she gave to those around her. My aunt died while I was writing up my thesis – her death floored me. The final few months of writing and grieving and grieving and writing were, in all honesty, agony. But, with lots of support, love, time and investment from others, I carried on. Thus as the dedication in my book reads, she really is/was the determination in every page. As I wait for the book to be delivered – the exciting moment when I can hold it in my hands as a real thing (!) – I am contemplating how important it is to remember our many supports in the face of academia’s individualising culture, but also about the ways that we can creatively remember people we have loved and lost in and through our research and writing. You can see some of my aunt’s artwork here in this short film I made.

I have no real conclusion to this ramble; it is little more than a collection of thoughts about life, loss, death and grief in and amongst a sad week. I end with the fitting words of disability justice activist, Mia Mingus, who sums it up powerfully:

We must leave evidence. Evidence that we were here, that we existed, that we survived and loved and ached. Evidence of the wholeness we never felt and the immense sense of fullness we gave to each other. Evidence of who we were, who we thought we were, who we never should have been. Evidence for each other that there are other ways to live–past survival; past isolation.

This post is dedicated to the memory of Lisa Procter, a vibrant and brilliant scholar whom I was lucky to know, and even luckier to have the opportunity to work alongside.


Burkitt, I. (2012) ‘Emotional Reflexivity: Feeling, Emotion and Imagination in Reflexive Dialogues’, Sociology, 46: 3, 458-472

Liddiard, K (2018) The Intimate Lives of Disabled People. London: Routledge, ISBN 978-1-4094-6090-9

Matthews-King, A. (2017) Landmark study links Tory austerity to 120,000 deaths, The Independent, Wednesday 15th November.

Mingus, M. (year unknown) About. Online. Available from: [accessed 20/11/2017]

The Intimate Lives of Disabled People…

I’m thrilled to be able to say that I have finally submitted my book, The Intimate Lives of Disabled People, to its publisher, Routledge. It will be out in December 2017. Below I share the cover and its accompanying text. The book has been a long time coming and has taken immense amounts of graft, as well as copious amounts of support from colleagues, family, friends and allies, to who I will always be indebted. Big thanks, of course, go to #ScholarTed, who wrote most of it…

Disabled people are routinely assumed to lack the capabilities and capacities to embody and experience sexuality and desire, as well as the agency to love and be loved by others, and build their own families, if they so choose. Centring on the sexual, intimate and erotic lives of disabled people, this book presents a rare opportunity to understand and ask critical questions about such widely held assumptions.

Book coverIn essence, this book is a collection of sexual stories, told by disabled people on their own terms and in their own ways. Stories that shed light on areas of disability, love and life that are typically overlooked and ignored. A sociological analysis of these stories reveals the creative ways in which disabled people manage and negotiate their sexual and intimate lives in contexts where these are habitually denied. In its calls for disabled people’s sexual and intimate citizenship, stories are drawn upon as the means to create social change and build more radically inclusive sexual cultures.

In this ground breaking feminist critical disability studies text, The Intimate Lives of Disabled People introduces and contributes to contemporary debates around disability, sexuality and intimacy in the 21st century. Its arguments are relevant and accessible to researchers, academics, and students across a wide range of disciplines – such as sociology, gender studies, psychology, social work, and philosophy – as well as disabled people, their families and allies, and the professionals who work with and for them.

If you would like to attend a free Book Launch Extravaganza where my book will be launched on 31st October 2017 at Manchester Metropolitan University, please see here.