To put it shortly, the answer is yes. Sexism is so deeply entrenched into our society that increasingly, people are realising just how appalling the treatment of disabled women and girls can be. Whether it is the initial diagnosis, work, or abuse, disabled women have the short end of the stick being both female and disabled.
When talking about diagnosis, it is a little thought about fact that most of the initial research, (predominantly in the mental illness field in this case) was done on men, meaning that it can be harder for women to get a diagnosis for conditions such as autism because the doctors just aren’t familiar with its presentation in women. BBC news ran an article on the topic saying ‘When Hans Asperger first defined autistic psychopathy in 1944, he was talking about boys. He thought no women or girls were affected by the condition.’ In referring to the situation in the past tense, one would assume that the issue has been completely rectified, however across the world many girls still struggle to get a correct diagnosis (and so consequently the necessary help) because of the lack of research into female symptoms.
Disabled women who are able to work suffer worse treatment than that of able bodied women. When researching statistics to support this statement I was horrified by how true it was. Firstly I saw, that on average, the employment for an able bodied women is 80%, while for disabled women, it is 33%. Secondly, the average employment rate for an able bodied woman after a 4 year university course is 90%, while for a disabled woman it is 51%. Finally, the median income for an able bodied woman per year is £28,518, while for disabled women it is £13,974- more than half of that of their able bodied counterparts (who in turn earn 20% less on average than their male co-workers- I’m not trying to sugar coat the situation for the able bodied woman either!). All of these statistics add up to a picture of a world in which it is very difficult for a disabled woman to succeed. At least she will have the support of a loving partner, right? Well...
Disabled women are also more than twice as likely to suffer domestic abuse than other women. Because of their often increased vulnerability, it is estimated that nearly half of all disabled women will suffer some form of abuse at some time in their lives. The abuser can take advantage of the fact that the woman may rely on said abuser for aid or access to the outside world, or may have self esteem issues related to their disability, and uses this to keep the victim under their control. The flip side is that because of their conditions, disabled women are less likely to step forward and ask for help; be it a sense of debt to the abuser for ‘putting up’ with their disability, or just being physically unable to get access to a phone or leave the house without their abuser.
Women with disabilities are a group often left out of activism movements. As a result many of the issues they face are left undiscussed. These issues are typical of all disabled women, however they may be exacerbated if the woman in question is also black or from an ethnic minority or a member of the LGBT+ community, or lives in a less developed country where knowledge about disability is even less common.
After all that doom and gloom, you may be wondering what you can do to help. The easiest way would be to donate to a domestic abuse charity to help abused disabled women, however, while being a very important form of assistance, this does not solve the issue at its core.
The most important way of helping is to start with you, and the people around you. Sexism within ableism is a complex issue, and can only be rectified once both issues have been resolved. So, get involved in campaigning for disabled and female rights, openly discuss these issues and get the country talking about disability in general, and in turn disabled feminist issues.
And remember, don’t leave disabled girls out of your activism!