Episode 2: Hating Disability (Transcript)
To listen to the episode, please visit the episode page here. What follows is a transcript of the episode, lightly edited for clarity.
We’re often the first people to get blamed when something goes wrong. The first set of people to be picked on when there are times of tension and stress, and the very last, to be given any resources, any funding, any help, because there’s also a general societal feeling, I think, that disabled people are people to be carried, and that they cannot make a contribution to society. They’re just people to be carried along.
Hello, and welcome to Hidden Hate, a brand new podcast series from the Centre for Hate Studies at the University of Leicester. I’m Neil Chakraborty.
And I’m Amy Clark.
And we’ll be shining a light on some of the biggest challenges of our time, challenges which destroy lives, challenges which have escalated during these difficult times, and challenges which all too often slip under the radar.
To help us unpick these challenges. We’ll be joined by some fabulous guests who will be sharing insights from their research, their activism and their own lived experiences. In today’s episode, we’ll be exploring the theme of hating disability. In the context of alarmingly high levels of disability hate crime, we’ll be exploring what it feels like to personally experience hostility on the basis of your disability, and what we can do collectively and individually to create inclusive public spaces for disabled people.
So today, we are honoured and delighted to be joined by the wonderful Erin Pritchard and David Wilkin. Thank you both so much for being here. You are hugely knowledgeable, you’re incredibly inspirational in the work that you do. And it’s such a privilege to be talking to you today. Our first guest Erin Pritchard is a lecturer in Special Educational Needs at Liverpool Hope University, editor of Disability in Society, and author of Dwarfism, Spatiality and Disabling Experiences. Erin, it is fantastic to see you today. How are you?
I’m very good, thank you. Great to be here.
Great to see you, Erin. We’ll chat in a moment, I’m just going to introduce our second guest, who is David Wilkin. David is an Honorary Fellow at the University of Leicester and lead coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network. David has spent more than 30 years working within the public transport sector and seeking to make the world a better, kinder place. David, we are so grateful to have you here today. How are you?
Oh, I’m pretty good. Thank you. Now, I’m grateful that you asked me actually. But you’ll have to stop mentioning the 30 years because it makes me sound old.
No, it doesn’t at all. And you’re not old. You’re just knowledgeable and experienced. David, I was lucky enough to hear you speak last week at the annual British Society of Criminology Conference, the week before at the first ever National Disability Hate Crime Conference. I feel very privileged to have you here again today. So thank you very much for joining us.
So the work that both of you do is incredibly varied and interesting. And well, we’d like to learn a little bit more about what led you towards the work that you do and the decision to shine a light on these issues. So Erin, can we begin with you please? I’m particularly fascinated by your work. Can you tell us about your path towards academia and the research that you’ve undertaken?
Yes, so I originally started out as a geographer, so I had no interest in disability or anything, because I never felt I fitted in there as a dwarf or a person with dwarfism. But it was only later, as I was sort of doing my master’s degree, and thinking about the role of spaces and how people interact with spaces, that I thought as a person with dwarfism, I use them very differently. I will avoid certain areas at certain times, I will take different routes to avoid certain, you know, crowds and stuff because it’s about trying to control how much abuse you get. So it’s practically every time you step foot out the door as a person with dwarfism. So I know a lot of people with dwarfism just don’t even want to leave their houses sometimes because, if it’s not being stared at or pointed at, it’s being photographed or having some name popular in the media like, Oompa Loompa or Mini-Me being shouted at you. So I wanted to see if that was similar amongst other people with dwarfism and, yeah, basically, it was.
And do you think that’s something, the extent to which people actually realise how much having a disability can affect the spaces that you engage with? And perhaps there are all various types of physical disabilities as well, because I think a lot of people would think about wheelchair access, but they wouldn’t necessarily think about other types of access. So was that difficult for you to kind of get that message across to people?
Yeah. Because when you say when you think about disability, and we think of a wheelchair user because that’s the image of disability, that’s the image that you know is quite lazy in society that we have to stop and see that they have this, you know, this mobility device. Whereas you never get people with dwarfism included in these images so you don’t think about their access needs, because you’re just short. And you don’t think about the social access. So you know, everything’s got physical access, like using a ramp or something. And, actually, to access a space, you just want to feel safe there and not be abused, because you know, your condition carries a stigma with it.
Yeah, absolutely. And you kind of you mentioned sort of stereotypes and misrepresentations of dwarfs. And for as long as I can remember those kinds of representations, I think have been inherently flawed and very much reinforced by popular media. Is that evident in your own research and lived experience?
Yeah, so I’ve got quite a few pieces that have recently come out. So I’ve moved away from like, sort of physical access to looking at cultural representations of dwarfism. So we have a special issue for the Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies that looked at these particular representations of dwarfism, and also the meta narrative of dwarfism, which is the chapter I wrote. And it’s that you’re always funny, you’re always somebody to be laughed at, you’re often infantilized because you’re like, a child. So it’s this power imbalance. And these these representations are often created by non-disabled people, like if you think of freak shows, as PT Barnum and all that, but they are reinforced by a minority of people with dwarfism, who are supported because they keep us all in this inferior place in society. So it’s, you know, it does have this tremendous impact, because dwarfism is such a rare impairment, that most people have only seen the dwarfs in the media. And so when they see a dwarf, in the street, they treat them in the exact same way. And not everyone, but a lot of people. So, for example, my sister-in-law was telling me how I’ve been around a supermarket and one of her colleagues had seen me and she didn’t know I was related to Maria, and she ran up to going, “I’ve just seen a real life midget”. And that just automatically says that this person’s just entertained by us in the media, and then that’s how they’re gonna respond.
And I think, when it comes to the language that we use in relation to disabled people, that it’s the type of language that people perhaps don’t see as overtly offensive as they might other types of language. And so I’m wondering, you know, what impact this does actually have on people who have disabilities? Because I’m not sure people necessarily always think about the the full impacts of that person that hears that and then goes away.
Yeah, I mean, like, there’s words such as I can use, and here’s an example that sort of spaz or mong, you know, spaz was used in a new song recently by Lizzo, who has retracted it, but it’s like, people use it so often. I mean, I think it was in Comic Relief or Children in Need. One of those where tax avoidance celebrities ask for money. But like Zoe Ball was making jokes about midgets, and I’m like, you’re trying to raise money to help disabled people, but you’re using this term that is so offensive to people with dwarfism, because we haven’t got the same [news] as other, you know, minority groups. So people still use these and they are when you look at the the, where these words originate from and their meaning. Yeah, they’re really offensive, especially when you’re having them screamed at you in the street or somebody’s passing in a car and screaming at you because it’s just a laugh to them.
Yeah, absolutely. Now, we’ve deliberately named the podcast series Hidden Hate, because so many hostile experiences go under the radar, as you well know. But this feels especially true for disability hate crime, would you agree?
Yes, definitely. Because you know, you’ve got like, recently like Pride Month, which is great and Black Lives Matter. Again, great, you know, you need those things. But when it comes to disability, people aren’t you know, there’s been disability awareness months, nobody knows about it, there’s no flags or anything, you know, and so people are like, Oh, no, it doesn’t matter because we, you know, I give to charity, you know, Scope or something. So I’m good person. But actually, the hate that a lot of disabled people receive and I can’t speak on behalf of all disabled people, but in particularly with dwarfism is that it’s hidden because people just think we’re all these happy little people that love being mocked that we love, you know, if somebody picks us up here, we’re just going to giggle, but it’s actually… We’re normal people at the end of the day, we don’t like any of that. It’s just a few that have no pride in themsleves that rent themselves out that go and do that. But, you know, I do think it’s hidden because it’s acceptable to use words like midget, it’s acceptable to have things like midget wrestling, midget tossing. And so the the repercussions from that are never seen. They’re rarely seen, you know, and if you do speak out about it, well it’s just people gonna have a laugh from it, because isn’t it hilarious when it happens to dwarfs? Right? It’s just a joke, isn’t it?
Yeah, yeah, I see what you’re saying. David, I was gonna ask you to come in on that and get your opinions on whether you feel like disability is still a particularly hidden type of hostility in society today?
Yes, it is. Because it doesn’t ring many political bells. There aren’t many people who will ply for the votes of disabled people. There aren’t many campaign groups that are extensively listened to in political circles. There aren’t many media shows that cover the topic. There aren’t many books that are written on the subject. It’s those establishment those cultural features, I think, add together to hide the problem. But also, and I was interested in a term that Erin used, the controlling of abuse, and that control itself tends to hide the problem. But it’s a technique that must be used. When I was younger, I used to talk in very strange ways and with strange mannerisms, and that would always attract bad comments, that would always attract abuse. And so to do it, I used to hide away. Now, perhaps that’s not the right thing to do. But it’s a way of controlling abuse. And I hadn’t thought about it in those terms, since Erin mentioned it this morning. So I think there are two facets to this. One is that people generally speaking, are not interested. They’re not interested in people with disabilities. And that tends to be a tendency throughout society, I think. We’re often the first people to get blamed when something goes wrong. The first set of people to be picked on when there are times of tension and stress. And the very last, to be given any resources, any funding, any help. Because there’s also a general societal feeling, I think, that disabled people are people to be carried, and that they cannot make a contribution to society. They’re just people to be carried along, and a cost burden to the rest of society. And let’s face it, that attitude is often portrayed in certain newspapers in the UK. Whenever anything goes wrong, we’re often the first to be pointed out and how much money we cost the rest of society and how much we’re a burden and how useless we are. And so not only have we got the particular disabilities that we have, but we’re also devalued by other people, because they see us as a burden on society. So it’s kind of a double hit.
Yeah, that makes sense. And I think that’s something that we’ll explore a little bit later as well, David, because it’s particularly interesting. Erin, thinking about all of this, I want to swing back to the work that you did, you were researching in spaces that dwarfs also engage in. And so, and it was the first time I met you, actually, you were delivering a conference paper on researcher vulnerability. And it was really, really insightful. And you offered some personal reflections on what it’s like, for you at times being a woman with dwarfism researching in these spaces. So could you tell us a little bit more about those experiences?
Yeah, so that was based on how I recruited the participants for my doctoral research was going to these particular associations for people with dwarfism. And at first, I thought, that’s great. I’m a dwarf so it’s easy just to go and access them and recruit, and I thought that people would have been professional enough to know, I was there as a PhD student. But there was a particular man with dwarfism. And it seemed at these spaces that these were places where a lot of dwarfs would try and go and date someone else with dwarfism. Fair enough. But I was not interested. He didn’t take no for an answer. And I ended up getting assaulted by him. And I thought the right thing to do is let the association know because they obviously weren’t the safe spaces for the, you know, members, but they just tried to brush it under the carpet and make all those typical excuses. Oh, yeah, he’s a pain when he’s drunk. You know, he misbehaves when he’s drunk. So that makes it acceptable? Okay. And then they were trying to deny it, and when I spoke out about it, they threatened me with legal action. So I did not feel that these were safe spaces because they try and say, you know, we help our members and all this. But they do very little to be proactive in changing attitudes. They just have these like discos and stuff. And that’s it. And so I just didn’t feel welcome. And like a lot of women, I felt vulnerable. And you know, one man was saying, like, You shouldn’t speak out about it. And I’m thinking, you’ve obviously got something to hide.
Did it ever make you feel differently about the research that you were doing?
No, because I found other avenues of recruitment and the people that I did recruit, I felt were great. But I just felt with these associations that these are the places that should be doing more stuff. But yeah, it comes to individuals and all that to be doing it not these associations that usually get taken over by average size people anyway. And so yeah, I just carried on but I do feel sometimes that I think, what’s the point, because I’ll say to people with dwarfism, let’s, let’s change the word midget, let’s get rid of it from products and they’ll be like, no. And then I’ll change it and get a load of abuse, and people are like, oh now you need to do this product. Now you need to do that product. And I’m like, no, I’m not putting myself in that position again. You know, so we need to be more of a collective yet, that just doesn’t seem to be that, you know, like, like that collective agency that you have in other groups, like, you know, Black Lives Matter and Pride and all that. But a lot of people dwarfism just saw it as normal getting the abuse, it was just so normal, like, yeah, I get stared at, I don’t like this. I don’t like that. Oh so what are you going to do about it, and it’s like, I don’t know, I felt feel I just feel just trodden on basically.
I find this incredibly moving Erin. And I think what you’ve just described and what you said earlier, as well about the sheer inevitability of hostility, it’s profoundly worrying, you know, the way in which you have to control the volume of abuse that you get… The fact that it’s going to happen as a given, right? It’s inevitable. It’s about controlling the volume and controlling your reactions and your use of public spaces. And also the way in which these identities intersect with other aspects of identities. So disabled abuse can intersect with misogynistic abuse and other forms as well. It’s incredibly difficult terrain. And I’m really grateful to you for being so candid with us today.
I think there’s something, if I may add to this as well. I’m constantly surprised, and I’d love to know the answers. And I don’t know the answers, I promise you, I don’t. But I’d love to know why people go to so much trouble to make other people’s lives so miserable. So you know, it will be easy if you saw somebody with a disability, whatever it may be, it will be easy to do nothing. It will be easy to say nothing, and just walk on. But some people really prioritise making other people’s lives such a misery, they have to stop and say something. What’s the motivation for that? I’d love to know.
Well, why do you think that is David? Let’s turn it to you. Why do you think people do it?
Okay, well, there’s so little research we can point to to find out the answers to that. But if it was just off the top of my head in an unchallengeable way, I’d say. I’d say there were two or three reasons. Maybe resentment. Because, you know, there’s an overall belief that disabled people have almost unlimited access to money and benefits. Perhaps it’s some kind of jealousy that they think disabled people have a different, more cottonwooled life, perhaps, and one that they don’t have access to. Perhaps it is going back to this thing that disabled people are a burden again, you know, if they think that, you know, I’m a member of society, we’re trying to build society and make it a better place. And of course, we can’t do it with them. Because they don’t contribute to it. So perhaps there’s a resentment around that as well. But these are only guesses I don’t really know. Or perhaps we’ve always been seen as kind of the weakest most blamable sector of society. So if somebody’s just as simple as having a bad day, you know, ah, I know, I’ve just seen a soft target. This is an easy person to take out my… To vent my spleen upon. So I’ll do just that, I’ll make them feel lousy as well, because I do. So it might be something just as simple as that. But these are only motivations that I’m guessing at.
Can I just add to that, because I absolutely agree, David. But I definitely think, because a paper just came out recently was looking at why we laugh at dwarfs. And it was connected to superiority, the use of humour. And basically, if I make fun of you, I can feel better in myself like so you might, somebody might be having a bad day. And then they see someone with dwarfism. Well, I can make fun of that and laugh at it. And that makes me feel better. I definitely think also this thing might, you know, saw in 2010, under the Conservative government, the austerity programme, and obviously, yeah, disabled people were scapegoated because obviously, yeah, we caused the global recession somehow. Not people avoiding taxes and dodgy banks, it was definitely us. And so you know, you had the right wing media doing this, that we’re costing the earth basically, which is similar to propaganda you had in Germany in the 1930s, like this person is costing you X amount, this is your money, this is your hard working money, without realising that actually, most disabled people they work, you know, I mean I work and pay taxes, but I don’t get the same public resources of everybody else, because half of it is out of reach. But then it’s still just easier, isn’t it? If you have a bad day, blame the weaker society, or who you perceive to be weaker.
Absolutely Erin, and I think these themes crop up time and time again, in the in the work that we do with groups and communities across the spectrum who are targeted on the basis of that perceived difference, or a perceived sense of vulnerability, being easy targets, the stereotypes, the lazy tropes, everything that you and David have spoken to, I think…
But it goes further as well, I found in my research, you know, stuff like disabled people eat babies, you know, where does this come from? I mean, you know, this is really extreme stuff, you know, why on earth would you would you even begin to think that kind of stuff it, but it’s been invented somewhere, it propagates through small pockets of society, but it’s just beyond ridiculous.
David, can I rewind back to something that you touched upon earlier, so you started to speak a little bit about your experiences in early life. And I’d like if, if you’re able to, for you to just share a little bit more about those early experiences and how perhaps, they shaped the work that you do now.
Well it kind of revealed two emotions, though, they took decades to be revealed. The two emotions fear and anger. Fear because I spent most of the first, let’s say between eight years of age until something like sixteen, I spent most of my life in fear because I couldn’t speak properly. And I was always getting beaten up for one reason or another. You know, other people have to seem to want to take out their problems on me. So I hid away. And that fear was the thing that kept me indoors, most of the time hiding away, and I would look out the window and watch people go past it, because I didn’t want to go out and be a part of society. And that fear led me to have, consequently, I left school without being able to string a sentence together. I didn’t go to school very much. And I had some problems with alcohol and a funny old life after that for a few years. So the impact of what these other people did to me, were far reaching. They reached far beyond the moment itself. And you were saying earlier, Neil, something about, you know, perhaps that people don’t understand completely the damage they’re doing when they’re carrying out this abuse? I think that some people do, I think some people do, because they do it over and over again. And they see the reactions. So having taken having occasioned the abuse, and seeing the reaction, they go back and do it again. So I think that some people do understand the impacts. And they return to do it once more. But anyway, going back to my impact, so that brought out anger because several years later after seeing so many people that are abused on the railway system that I worked upon. The railways are funny things, they bring out the best and worst in people. And you really see the general public at their absolute nastiest, and you see their absolute best. And some of that nastiest was sometimes transferred onto disabled people being used as people to blame as scapegoats for whichever situation was turning bad. So I saw some real bad abuse. And so this anger that developed in my later years, I then thought I would try and turn into research. So that’s when I looked at disability hate crime and I didn’t even know there was such a thing before I looked into it. But then I found out there was, and even now there are so few researchers involved in disability hate crime globally, that it’s not really the sexiest of subjects. But to me, it’s one of the most important.
Thank you, David. And thanks again for sharing some of those experiences. I can can imagine how difficult that is, that process. And I think if we take anything from that, listeners will be hearing what you and Erin are saying and how it shapes people’s lives and your own lives personally, professionally, inspires you, devastates you, all of those emotions are there aren’t they, when we experience this, and we research this, and I really appreciate you both being so honest and candid. There might be listeners who feel well, we’re much more understanding society now where we’re much more tolerant. I’m not a fan of the word tolerant, but we’re much more tolerant, we’re much more understanding, we’re much more empathetic than might have been the case 20, 30 years ago. And yet, it seems that forms of hostility towards disabled people are on the rise in lots of different contexts. Can you speak to that, David, do you feel that hostility is on the rise? And if so, why might that be the case?
I think it’s peaks and troughs. I think there’s always an underlying victimisation of disabled people, simply because there are people with disabilities and are easier and softer targets. But during the pandemic, for example, I did some research and found out that there was a spike in disability hate crime, as there were in many hate crimes during the pandemic. And there was a spike in disability hate crime, because disabled people were being directly blamed for transmitting the virus because some people have breathing difficulties and didn’t want to wear face masks. They were being blamed for deliberately transmitting the virus. And you know, there were some nasty hostile scenes of people being called out in the society for doing these horrible things and trying to kill people as I’ve even heard. Because some of the street furniture moved, bars expanded on out onto the streets because they wanted to move out of the constraints of the building itself and move down to the street. So this would cause other problems with blind people, people with working dogs, because they’d just walk into street furniture. And this itself, you know, contributed to even more abuse, because they were just seen bumbling and bimbling into people and not watching where they’re going. And are they so stupid, they can’t control themselves? And so, you know, there are peaks and troughs, I think, although there is a kind of ongoing trend of disability hate crime, and with your point about tolerance, which I also disagree with. But yes, I think these days, we’re more open to knowing what disability hate crime is, otherwise, we wouldn’t be here today. But are we prepared to do something about it? And that’s a question I would ask and I haven’t got the answer to because I don’t see, apart from people who are abused, or allies, people like yourselves who care. Apart from those people, I can’t see many people coming forward to do something about it.
We might be coming back to that in a moment David and looking at ways in which we can inspire more within that space, because I fully agree with what you’re saying. And I think if we’re going to do anything meaningful, we need bolder, collective actions across the piece, not just from those who encounter this, not just from those who live it, but but we all need to be allies. So yeah, I might come back to you both very shortly for your ideas in that respect. I just again, want to come back a moment, David to public transport. So you’ve done pioneering work on disability hate crime within the context of public transport. Why why is that work so important?
I think I came quite late to research and I found that within research, you’ve got to focus on one particular area, haven’t you? You can’t focus on the whole lot, because it’d be a lifetime project and you’ll probably be dead before you finished it. So you’ve got to focus. And a particular focus seemed obvious to me because having spent so many years in public transport and knowing a lot about it, and I’d seen it as a place of so much abuse. So I felt it was a good point to focus on, to use as an example. And secondly… Of course, it’s a microcosm of society itself. It’s an interesting microcosm, you’re bringing together everybody you’d normally see in every other strand of society, and you’re putting them in one small space, a space that can be a place of tension, of stress, of overcrowding, of a mixture of cultures and beliefs and everything else, all in one small space. And that, as I said earlier, can bring out the best and the worst in people. So to me, public transport not only is a familiar place for me, one that I feel happy to work within. And also I had lots of contacts in public transport that I could ask about what they knew about disability hate crime, but it was a microcosm of society, it was the fact that all life is here in this place. And that the abuse that was being perpetrated, there is just an exemplar of what was happening outside. And one last note that I was quite surprised, shocked, in fact, that when I reached out to my contacts in the railway industry to ask how much they knew about disability hate crime, and secondly, what they were doing about it. The answers were nothing and nothing. And then, that came as a bit of a blow as well. But for me, it was a microcosm, it was a good place. It was a potboiler of human activity.
I find that final point quite telling though, David. The level of disinterest when it comes to understanding the scope of the problem, the nature, the impacts and wanting to do anything about it. And both you and Erin have already spoken to that theme of disinterest already, and I just, again, want to come back to you both really on that and what can we do in that respect to ensure that disablist hate crime gets more attention from the justice system, from the general public? You’ve spoken about why it might not receive the level of attention that it should, but what can we do about that? Erin, do you want to come to that?
Yeah, I think like, because I’ve reported incidents of hate crimes to the police and with evidence because it’s been on social media. And basically, the best they can do is offer you Victim Support, well I don’t want Victim Support, I want you to actually do something to stop it. But it’s just seems like No, it’s alright, they can shout this at you, they can call you this… We’ve got the Equality Act, but that just recently shows that it’s not worth the paper it’s written on. Because they just think, yeah, if you get offered Victim Support, it will just make you feel so much better. And we can just let the person get away with it and move on to the next target. So I think they need to be taken it a lot more seriously. That, you know, we should not be treated like second class citizens. And if there is this hate speech, which we have recognised, like the word midget and stuff, that when people use that, basically telling you on social media, that you’d be better off, like, not here. You know, so many things, that they’re having a go at you, not just your disability, but also other identities, such as your sexuality and being a woman, whatever. But they should be taking it more seriously. You know, I know like a lot of disabled people think what’s the point of reporting it because you do nothing about it. You know, and I think we need to change those representations, which… I know the media that will say you’re a snowflake, but basically you need to stop people sort of having this encouragement. You know, some people can’t behave themselves because they can’t tell the difference between fiction and reality, well take that away from them. I know people won’t like that. But you know, I have a right not to hear that word midget being shouted on the telly and people laughing and going, look at the midget wrestlers, and look at the pantomime freaks and stuff. You know, because you only have to look at the responses and comments on social media, even like YouTube, to see that some people, that’s the way they’re gonna then treat you. And so I think it just needs a little more rounded approach to be listening to disabled people. And not just the ones that are playing to your tune, you know, being hired out like some, you know, pets, but actually the people that get the abuse as a result of it, and, you know, this is no fun.
David, did you want to add anything to that?
Yes, please. There are some things we can do that we have the tools for, and there are some things that we can do that we don’t have the tools for. But we’re building tools. For example, our recent Disability Hate Crime Conference, co-organised with Leah Burch, Irene Zempi and myself. So that spreads the word, it raises a flag, it tells people that it exists, and if they take an interest, it gives them some information about what’s going on. Also, it’s interesting to see more police forces these days have hate crime officers, except that now seems to be on the decline where, who was once a hate crime officer is now a safeguarding officer dealing with general issues. So their role has been diluted somewhat, and therefore, they don’t focus as much on hate crime as they used to. And then we have this great thing. We have tools that are available, this Equality Act 2010, that forces local authorities and people, child care organisations and safeguarding organisations all to have equality measures in place, to have those equality measures embedded in their contract work, in their training, in the culture of organisations. Wonderful. One major problem. It’s overseen by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which seem to do almost nothing. They are a toothless, ineffective, almost useless organisation that seems to provide nothing, they seem to be completely hopeless in what they do to protect disabled people, and to underpin equality objectives, which should be enriched and inlaced throughout our society. And it’s not because nobody ever gets taken to court when they’re not. And they don’t get taken to court because the ESRC are not there to do their job. Thank you both for that insight. Erin, if it’s alright, with you, you alluded earlier to some of the campaigning work that you’ve done in this area, which I should imagine is, is very exhaustive and has quite a large impact on an individual that’s trying to do this work almost on her own. And I wanted to ask you about the campaign that you did to change the name of the so called Midget Gems among retailers, which received considerable attention and I know you got a lot of negative backlash from people on social media because of it. So I wondered, firstly, if you could explain why you decided to take this on as a campaign and then kind of your thoughts having gone through this process?
Yeah, so I wrote a chapter for an edited book on disability hate speech, and it was the influence of cultural representations and dwarfism, of hate speech so drawing on the word midget, which I found from my research and I know from experience is the most offensive term you can use towards a person with dwarfism. It derives from the word midge, meaning gnat, and it was popularised in the freak show, where people thought it was a good idea to put dwarfs on display and go oh, look at that. It’s different. Well, you know, obviously the average sized PT Barnum made a lot of money from it. But people always say it’s a job for us, which is offensive in itself. So this campaign was like, Well, look, you wouldn’t have any other sweets or whatever using derogatory slurs associated with any minority group, whether it’s disability or whatever. So why don’t we just get rid of this outdated term on the bag of sweets. So I contacted a couple of companies. Whilst at first, they go, we don’t mean to offend! No, I’m not saying you meant to offend. So can you drop it and they’d be like, Okay. Because I thought my research should have impact and they changed it… M&S changed it, no problem. But, however, the far right tabloid, the Daily Mail got ahold of it, didn’t they? And so they thought, right to sell some newspapers… Because obviously, their sales have dropped… They thought this is well, this is so woke. And so then you get like a lot of mostly men, middle aged men saying, Oh, this has really upset me and getting really nasty about it. And you’re like, well, your attitude just shows why you needed to be changed basically. Because apparently I’d ruined some childhoods and stuff and I’m thinking, you’re calling me the snowflake. But people with dwarfism were like, This is great, this is great. You’ve done this and I’m so happy but like I said, when I was saying let’s do it, they were like No, because they’re just, you know, there’s just going to be abuse. So I got a load of social media abuse just not just on Twitter or Facebook, but people messaged me on Facebook, people found my university email address, I got a couple of letters sent to my university address and you could tell it was mostly from some older people. One from University of Liverpool who decided to call me a stupid midget, a student there and the university didn’t act on it they just got him to remove it basically and send this apology going I didn’t mean it. Well, you took the time to find my address and stuff so I think you did. So yeah, you just think well, what’s the point but then actually makes you feel… No, if these are the responses, this makes me more passionate to change it because it shows it needs change. Of course it does have an impact and my line manager was great. She was like, do you want to take time off and I was like no, I’m carrying on because you just let these trolls win basically, you know, and it just showed that’s why it needs to be done. And then, you know, I had one woman with dwarfism saying, now you need to move on to Tootsie Rolls because they’ve got Mini Tootsie Rolls in America. And I was like, Well, why don’t you ask your association that you pay a membership fee for to actually do that, instead of relying on individuals? You know, this is what these associations are meant to be do instead of just having little parties, and, you know, we’ve got ane association here who’s patron is usually in pantos and stuff. And he won’t speak out about things like this, because oh, you know, because he’s worried about his own reputation, and people questioning then what he does, so they do nothing. And so I’m like, it just feels like you’re just in a constant battle. But you’re like, No, I’m gonna keep doing this, because everybody’s getting so much abuse from it, then we need to be changing it. And I wish others would just get on board.
Yeah, and I think it does show incredible resilience that you would carry on in the face of that much backlash. But I also think there is something to be said about putting your head above the parapet and being that one that’s going to highlight these issues. And then clearly, people are coming to you asking you to do it again. How do you manage the emotional labour of doing something like this, and this sort of campaigning as as a disabled person yourself?
Rant to my friends? I was basically talking to a colleague here, Professor David Bolt, he has a visual impairment or he’s blind. And like, I was speaking to him about the abuse. And people go, like, I believe the abuse get and like he says, this is just a normal day for a disabled person getting this abuse, but people can just see it more on social media. And that really hit me that yeah, I’m just gonna get this abuse anyway. So why not just change, get some change out of it, basically. And then, you know, the other thing, my other comfort zone is just having a dog. They’re better than humans. You know, they’ve got more brains than half of the people that were insulting us online. So yeah, so that’s, that’s the way you cope, I need to think, well, the more abuse you give us anyway, the more research I’ve got, so… And I love my job. So just keep at it.
Strong message, Erin. I’ve got one more question, something that I’ve been thinking about listening to you both speak today. And I’m wondering whether different groups of disabled people have radically different experiences. You’ve both talked about your personal experiences of hostility throughout your lives. And Erin, you’ve written very eloquently about a hierarchy of impairments in accessibility generally. And with regard to hate crime, it’s been suggested that learning disabled and autistic people are particularly affected. But other groups, such as wheelchair users, of course, face distinct challenges as well. So I wondered if you could say a little bit about this?
Yes. So I remember speaking to a wheelchair user years ago, this was when I was a physical geographer. We were outside student halls, she was having a fog, and I was just loitering. And we were putting the world to right about disability. And she said, You must get it differently because of those representations of dwarfs. And that’s when it really hit me. And in my own research, and in other research by Shakespeare et al, it was found that when people with dwarfism use a wheelchair, because we get a lot of mobility difficulties, that the abuse drops, it doesn’t disappear. And it’s not to say that wheelchair users don’t get abuse, but it drops because you’re no longer carrying that cultural baggage. You’re just another disabled person. Now, of course, you know, like we’ve spoken about with austerity and stuff. A lot of disabled people got abuse, because, you know, rags like The Daily Mail and The Sun are saying that we’re all multimillionaires on benefits. But so then people you know, were shouting to wheelchair users get a job and given them all abuse, but it’s like you don’t carry the same cultural baggage. There’s no, I’m not calling for this, but there’s no cripple tossing. There’s no you know, insert whatever derogatory slur like you know, you don’t have wheelchair wrestling or you know, autism wrestling or anything but you have you know, you can’t hire out a wheelchair user for your stag do to point and laugh at them, like you can with a dwarf and handcuff yourself. So you carry that cultural baggage and I think you know, certainly from my doctoral research, the way dwarfs are culturally represented in the media representations, certainly adds a massive target to how they are treated and that hate crime, like having Mini-Me shouted at you, and being picked up and being called an evil toilet dwarf and stuff like that, and asked if you do panto. In terms of others, like people with autism learning difficult disabilities, yes, because people think that they can get away with it because they’re not, you know, good witnesses. They’re not going to provide… So you can just get away with it and say, No, that never happened. And so obviously, you know, things like mate crimes and stuff. So I do think it fluctuates and differs. But I certainly think there is this hierarchy and what I know like, you know, people just with dwarfism, it is, like I said, when you use a wheelchair, it drops significantly because you’re no longer this figure of fun. And think it’s a really insightful kind of concept to talk about. And we know that it within hate crime more generally, we argue that there are certain hierarchies that exist amongst strands, because of course, they’re protected differently, and they get kind of different types of attention as well. Neil, are we ready for our quick fire round?
I love the quick fire round, Amy. Definitely ready!
So our wonderful guests… We have three quick fire questions for you both. So as the name suggests, we would like some succinct and concise answers to these if possible, please, Erin and David. Quickfire question number one, we want to know what we should be doing better collectively. So if you could change one thing, just one thing about society, the justice system, the law, social media, or anything else, what would it be? David, I’m going to come to you first.
I’m only allowed one? That’s a shame. Okay, the Equality and Human Rights Commission get them to actually do what they’re paid for.
Wonderful. Thank you, David. Erin.
Yeah, adding to that, less victim support more action.
Great, fantastic. I love that. So this is also a quickfire question number two, very important for our listeners. Because what we want to do with the podcast is is encourage people to become active bystanders, where it’s safe, and they’re able to do so. So what can listeners do to help make our communities less hostile towards disabled people? David?
Educate, educate, educate. Make sure awareness is raised and people know about disability and it’s not something to be feared. And remember that anyone can become disabled at any time. It’s not an exclusive club.
Excellent point. Thank you, David. Erin.
Don’t always believed mainstream media. And I would say, you know, what you see in the media with dwarfism isn’t actually true for people with dwarfism in society.
Yeah, be critical. Absolutely. Our final quick fire question for today. Again, for our listeners, who might want to go away and learn a little bit more about some of the things that we’ve been talking about today, if you could recommend a podcast, a website, or a book to anyone wanting to find out more about these issues, what would it be? David?
The Disability Hate Crime Network is available on Facebook. Also, Ed Hall et al. are bringing out a book shortly on the Landscapes of Hate, in which I have a chapter. And Seamus Taylor will be talking about the politics of hate crime in his new book, both due out in September, so there’s work on the horizon.
Fantastic. Thankyou. What about you, Erin?
For a website, I would say the Centre for Culture and Disability Studies which is edited by Professor Bolt. There is a good podcast or website, Hello, Little Lady. She does good blogs, she’s a woman with dwarfism. And I’ll just say my book, which is called Dwarfism, Spatiality and Disabling Experiences.
Perfect, lots of meaty content there. And we will link to as much of that content as possible on our website for listeners.
Yeah, I love those suggestions. They were fantastic. I thought you were cheating at the end a little bit by giving multiple suggestions. But we need all of the brilliant suggestions that we can get. So you weren’t really cheating. Thank you both massively. Right, we’ve covered some dark and difficult terrain, necessarily so, within this episode, so we’d like to end on a relatively positive note if it’s possible. We’re looking for a reason to feel optimistic during these hostile, difficult times. So what gives you a sense of optimism going forward? Can we come to you first Erin, is there anything that’s making you feel optimistic?
Yeah, I think some big media industries are starting to listen, whether they carry on is a different thing. But that’s great. And also, I’ve just noticed recently there’s been a drop in the sales of the Daily Mail, so that’s always a good thing.
Definitely a good thing. And David, what gives you a sense of optimism going forward?
Chronologically, things have changed over time. There is more material around these days, there are television documentaries, there are more books written This is still quite an eclectic subject, though. It’s still quite a small and exclusive subject. So I would like to see that broaden. I would like to see more research done in the future. But the optimism, yeah, that word is getting around. And that must be good.
Yeah, absolutely. And I think both of you have made a major contribution to that process, getting the word out, talking openly about your own experiences and hopes and aspirations and frustrations. I think we need a lot more of that. And thank you for being pioneers within this space. I really don’t want to stop as I feel we could keep chatting for days and we’d keep learning all the time. But we’ve got to stop because you’re busy people. I want to thank you for your time. Amy and I were so thrilled that you agreed to be part of this episode. And you’ve had to contend with poorliness, with lawn mowers in the background, all sorts going on today. And it’s been magnificent. So thank you both very much.
Yes, thank you from the bottom of our hearts. We really appreciate it. And a big thank you to you, our listeners for joining us today. If you enjoy our series, please subscribe wherever you get your podcasts and be sure to follow the Centre for Hate Studies on Twitter so you can keep up to date with our work and future events. Be sure to come back next time where we’ll be discussing hating immigrants.