“But you don’t look disabled” - Invisible disabilities, disclosure and being an ‘insider’ in disability research and ‘other’ in the disability movement and academia

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review



Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAbleism in Academia: Theorising Experiences of Disabilities and Chronic Illnesses in Higher Education.
EditorsJennifer Leigh, Nicole Brown
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherUniversity College London
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2020
Publication type

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Hidden or non-visible disabilities, disabilities that are not readily seen or immediately obvious to others, raise many issues about the presentation of self in everyday life (Goffman, 1959), but particularly so for the disabled academic and disability law scholar undertaking disability research. I have been an academic and a lawyer for over 20 years (becoming chronically ill in 2007) and I am completing a Professional Doctorate using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) to explore the lived experience of disabled students navigating their emerging graduate identities (Holmes, 2015) and ‘possible selves’ (Markus and Nurius, 1986). The research process has led me to question, not only my own identity as someone whose disability consciousness has grown during the process, but also my position in academia, in the disability movement and as a practitioner. This personal narrative of my own position as a disability law scholar with a non-visible disability has led me to question the hyper-paced pursuit of excellence in academia and to pursue the acknowledgement of difference and diversity within the disability movement. The research has required me to negotiate access to insider accounts and relate to and reflect on the experiences of the participants (Smith et.al, 2009) and as a result, my own experiences in academia. As a disability researcher and disability law scholar with a non-visible disability, I am presented with dilemmas of identity, disclosure and insider status. My legal training also demands empathy but impartiality. I could ‘pass’ as ‘normal’ or ‘able’ to my participants and, as Goffman suggests, the rewards of being or appearing ‘normal’ are such that most people who are in such a position will choose to do so at some point (Goffman, 1963).