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For some disabled women, the very nature of their impairment, for example, a visual
impairment, can create difficulties in responding to or even noticing initial contact from
others such as eye contact, facial expressions, or some other engaging flirtatious com-
man's lack of response may be misinterpreted by nondisabled men as disinterest, aloof-
ness, or unfriendliness (Butler 1999).
Negative ascriptions are compounded by social understandings of pieces of equip-
ment that enable women to retain their independence. Long canes, crutches, and wheel-
chairs,forinstance, aresociallyascribedsymbolsofdependence,confinement, andlim-
itation rather than associated with independence, liberation, and ability (Thomas 2002).
These cold metallic pieces of equipment are not socially regarded as an integral part of
a sexually attractive body. Sara declared that, as a disabled woman, she was conscious
that men did not always regard her as a sexual being or as a prospective sexual partner:
viewees noted that it was during their teenage years that they became aware of “feeling
different” from their nondisabled peers. Sara spoke of the moment that she realized her
physicality was noticeably different from those around her in the mainstream secondary
school that she attended:
I was 11 or 12 … I walked into the school gym for a dance and I thought, “I'm
not like these people,” and believe it or not it's the first time I remember and, it's
the way everybody else did. (Sara 41-46 years)
Hannah also spoke of first noticing her physical difference as a teenager when she
started to dress in a sexualized way, wearing tight fitting clothes: “It was at that point
thatIrealized mybodywasadifferentshapeoneitherside,becauseI'vegotaweeshort
side and I've got a long side so for the first time I really noticed” (Hannah 41-46 years).
Hannah also felt “different” because of her feelings around her sexuality and her dawn-
ing sense of sexual attraction toward other women. She felt she had “buried” this un-
feelings of being set apart from her nondisabled peers. A number of the women referred
to their teenage years as a particularly painful and upsetting time in their lives, much of
which may be attributed to society's response to their impairment. Claire, who also at-
tended mainstream school, talked similarly of experiencing disablist attitudes. She had
clear memories of regular humiliation, verbal abuse, and ridicule by nondisabled con-
temporaries, and this treatment had adversely affected her self-esteem and confidence
during her teenage years.
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