Students with disabilities may experience frequent microaggressions. The degree to which these microaggressions are noticed will vary across disabled students. The nature of the microaggressions also will vary.

As you read these examples, consider how you feel about each one, and the impact it might have on a disabled student. Remember to consider a variety of disability types (cognitive, learning, psychiatric, visual, hearing, physical, systemic). Also bear in mind that students have intersecting identities, and that they also may be experiencing microaggressions related to their other identities.


Examples of Microaggressions Reported by Students:

“I explained I had a visual impairment but the instructor asked me to send him a zoom link and calendar invite, which I could not do.”

“I was asked if I was sure that this program was the right fit for me given my medical condition.”

“The Powerpoint slides were in 12-point type and I couldn’t see any of them.”

“We only got one five-minute break in three hours.”

“The instructor said that people with (X disorder) should not be in a graduate program.”

“I needed more time for the assignment, but the instructor said they don’t take late work.”

“The instructor argued with me about the accommodations I requested.”

“I need more time to process and the class goes too fast.”

“My disability is real; the instructor implied I was trying to get away with something.”

“Someone made an insulting joke about disability and the instructor didn’t do anything.”

 “Disability was pathologized throughout the class.”

“I was asked for more information about my disability, and it seemed like it was just the instructor’s curiosity.”

“I couldn’t get priority enrollment; I need to think about my energy levels throughout the week. “

“I never received the Powerpoints in advance even though that was on my accommodation letter.”

“I was told it was better not to self-disclose.”

“Disability was barely discussed as part of diversity.”

“Teachers assume there is no one with a disability in the class.”


What to do if you commit a microaggression:

If you are aware of it, apologize and move on. Don’t make the recipient have to make you feel better.

If you are made aware of it by the recipient, try not to be defensive. Do not explain that “it was just a joke” or that “I didn’t mean anything by it.” That just compounds the microaggression.

If you are unclear why it was a microaggression you can (a) ask the recipient; (b) look it up; (c) talk with a knowledgeable colleague. Which of these you do might depend on how public the microaggression was when it took place, and also on the power differential between the aggressor and recipient.