“I can’t believe you said that!”: Talking back to Disability Oppression

Although many people recognize disability oppression when we hear it, we still may struggle with what to say or do in response. Sometimes we are too overwhelmed by anger or surprise to formulate thoughtful, educative responses. In this session we will develop skills in standing up for ourselves and teaching our allies to be upstanders as well. Our future demands better skills in this area.


1. Explore/identify ways in which language is used as part of the systematic oppression of individuals and ways of being a successful ally in situations when this occurs.

2. Identify and practice three facets of being good allies with genuine relationships among people with disabilities and allies so that we are knowledgeable, committed and informed. a. noticing that something oppressive happened or was said.

b. having  the COURAGE to intervene.

c. knowing  specific STRATEGIES for addressing oppression. What we say, how we say it, how we connect with the person who is being oppressive – all of these take practice and rehearsal.   We will focus on identifying and examining: THE SOURCES & IMPACT OF INTERNALIZED MESSAGES:: We will explore common sources of oppressive messages and their effects as people internalize oppressive remarks, behaviors, and social structures. Remarks range from oppressive humor to overt and subtle putdowns, experienced and witnessed. ROLE-PLAYS: We will engage in role-plays in order to rehearse possible responses to oppression. Role-play scenarios will come from the session attendees, and will thus be applicable to their lived experiences. CONNECTIONS TO OTHER OPPRESSIONS: How does the oppression of persons with disabilities relate to or connect with racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, languagism, lookism? How do we learn to be better allies across categories?

Mara Sapon-Shevin, Robin Smith