Death by a thousand paper cuts

Jillian Enright

This Is What Ableism Looks Like: A real-life example of what ableism and micro-aggressions look like in action
Person signing “No” in ASL(Photo by SHVETS production)

Death by a thousand paper cuts

For the record: I am white, which gives me privilege I did not earn. I have not experienced systemic racism.

I am Deaf, neurodivergent, and female-presenting, so I have indeed experienced ableism, audism, and sexism. These usually come in the form of micro-aggressions: subtle ways in which neurotypical and non-disabled people uphold their privilege over marginalized groups.

Rather than one or two overt, obvious, significant incidents, those of us who are both marginalized and privileged often experience a multitude of micro-aggressions. These wear away at us until we lose our patience with society’s ableist bullshit, and then people wonder why we’re “freaking out” over a minor inconvenience.

Newsflash: It’s no longer minor when it happens every damn day.

Deaf Awareness

This week is Hearing Awareness Week, and I think rather than promoting awareness about hearing loss, we need to make Hearing people more Deaf Aware. More importantly, we need to make larger corporations and institutions more Deaf aware.

  • Aware that we, Deaf and Hard of Hearing people, exist in the world.
  • Aware that we, Deaf and Hard of Hearing people, deserve equal access.

Story time

You might be wondering what prompted my mini diatribe today, well let me tell you about my recent experience.

In my role as an advocate and coach for neurodiverse individuals, I also tutor neurodiverse students, including those with various learning disabilities. I quite enjoy it.

I live in the country and my clients can be from all over the place, so we often will meet somewhere in the middle.

A fantastic local resource I’ve discovered is some of our public libraries allow us to book tutoring rooms for free. They’re little meeting rooms and they’re great.

The only problem is one must call the library on the phone directly in order to book a meeting room.

I’m Hard of Hearing, so I can call, but I absolutely hate doing it. It’s not just that it’s annoying or inconvenient, it’s physically painful.

I have to strain so hard to hear, and it’s even worse right now because everyone is wearing masks and they don’t remove them to speak on the phone — I can’t catch covid through the phone, people!

It’s also frustrating because living in the country often means poor cell service and I rarely have more than one bar.

Normally I don’t care because I hate talking on the phone anyway, but my calls are frequently dropped and the sound quality is poor, making it even more challenging to communicate with businesses on the phone.

I went onto our public library’s website to see if I could email the library directly. No such luck. I tried the Twitter account, which directed me back to the website. A couple of days later they provided me a different link and a phone number to which I could send a text message.



Inequitable and unequal service

If someone calls a business during their business hours, they’re likely to get an answer fairly quickly. They may even receive immediate service, like if I were to call the library directly and ask to book the tutoring room. A hearing and speaking person could call and book the room in under a minute and be done.

A Deaf or non-speaking person would have to use the online form, email, or text… all of which go to the same place, and have a wait time of approximately two business days — that’s including the text messages.

Actually, it took two days to receive a response to my twitter message and text message, but I never did receive a reply to my email or the online form, both of which I submitted several days ago.

I’ve been using this tutoring room for a month or so now, and it’s never been occupied, nor has there ever been anyone waiting to use it when we leave. I figured it’s not something a lot of people know about and wasn’t too concerned about the room being unavailable.

Fast forward to this morning, when I arrive for the tutoring session as per usual. I proceed to the tutoring room and start settling in. A staff person comes to the door and asks if I have booked the room. I tell them I tried emailing and texting but received no response.

They once again tell me I should call directly, and I explain why that is problematic for me. They then say I should make arrangements in person at the front desk. The library is a twenty-minute drive (in good weather), it’s not exactly on my way home from… working from home.

I don’t always know when my next session will be or when families and students might want to book with me, so I can’t always book for the following week while I’m already there.

Getting dizzy

First, I contacted them through their website, but got no response. Then I tried Twitter, where I was directed to their website. Later I got another Twitter message with a phone number for texting, so I tried that.

Only for the person at the other end of the texts to tell me I should call the library directly. Then they tell me I should work out a solution with that library, rather than their organization actually making their services more accessible.

You can see how this would get old fast.

It gets really old, really fast, when it’s a regular occurrence with various organizations and businesses.

I’m only one person, what about all the other Deaf or non-speaking patrons who may wish to contact them? Should they each have to make their own arrangements too?

Rather than one organization doing the work they should have already done, they instead will make every single disabled person jump through the same hoops every single time they try to access services.

This is certainly not a problem unique to public libraries, most of which are are under-funded and under-resourced.

This is a much larger issue in which our society has decided people should find their own solutions, rather than expecting corporations to make their services accessible.

Bottom line

The bottom line is this: neurodiverse, Deaf, and disabled people have every right to the same level of service and access as anyone else.

The responsibility is on the larger institutions, corporations, organizations, and government bodies to ensure their services are accessible.

The onus should not be put on individuals to devise their own accessibility strategies, one at a time, so the businesses don’t have to make any changes. That’s foolish, inefficient, and ableist.

For “Hearing Awareness Week”, I’d like to see hearing people — and the organizations they run — become more aware.

© Jillian Enright, Neurodiversity MB


Related Stories

The Social Model of Disability

Happy Hearing Awareness Week

Have Hearing Aid, Will Travel



Lui, P. P., & Quezada, L. (2019). Associations between microaggression and adjustment outcomes: A meta-analytic and narrative review. Psychological Bulletin, 145(1), 45–78.

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Neurodivergent. 20+ years social work and psychology experience. I write about mental health, neurodiversity, advocacy, education, and parenting. Founder of Neurodiversity MB. CYW, BA Psychology.


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