Research Student: Lesley Ellis
Disabled or Dwarf? The Significance of a Mobility Aid in the Social Interactions of Women with Dwarfism in Public Spaces
When women with dwarfism navigate public spaces their interactions are often dominated by their ‘bodily differences’ and the social and cultural meanings their bodies represent. Staring, harassment, laughter, pity and even hatefulness and teasing are some of the behaviours they have reported to encounter. The unique cultural history of the roles and representations of people with dwarfism, as ‘freaks’, sources of entertainment or non-human remains a central influence to how they are categorized and responded to in the social world. This cultural history has often separated them from other disabled people.
Many women with dwarfism use mobility aids such as a wheelchair, scooter or crutches infrequently, frequently or all of the time when in public spaces. These aids are a distinct symbol of the presence of an impairment and lead to the social and public labeling of a ‘disabled person’. This research project will pose the question, what is the significance of a mobility aid in the discrimination of women with dwarfism when they are in public spaces? It will seek to record these women’s experiences and obtain their insight into the factors influencing their interpersonal interactions and how the presence of an aid is significant in their experiences. Through this examination this project will be able to highlight the social and cultural categorizations and treatment of women with dwarfism.
I am a Canadian who identifies as disabled. I completed my BA in Philosophy and Sociology at the University of Victoria, BC Canada in 2001. After working in fundraising for a number of years I decided to go back to school in 2011 and completed my MA in Disability Studies through the University of Leeds distance-learning program in 2013.
What motivated me to undertake PhD study?
After completing my MA in Disability Studies at the University of Leeds I was inspired to pursue my studies further, in particular my area of research. University of Leeds has one the leading centers of Disability Studies in the world and I was inspired to work as part of the Centre full time to learn and ultimately contribute to the field of Disability Studies and the Disabled People’s Movement.
What makes me passionate about my subject?
I am passionate about the rights of disabled people and the breakdown of the pervasive and systematic barriers we face. I believe that research and activism is central to identifying and eliminating the social, economic and cultural barriers that disabled people encounter on a day-to-day basis.
What are my plans once I have completed my PhD?
I hope to continue working in academia, teaching, writing and researching in my areas of interest.