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What Is Disability Harassment?

Disability harassment is typically conducted in a harmful way toward the person with the disability.
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  • Written By: Tara Barnett
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 16 December 2014
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Disability harassment is any form of speech or action that draws undue attention to a disability, either mental or physical. Harassment of the disabled is usually considered a different problem than discrimination against the disabled, although both are serious crimes. In the workplace, disability harassment is usually dealt with in a way that is similar to other forms of harassment and can result in legal action. Given the personal nature of harassment and differing comfort levels, it can be difficult to precisely delineate what constitutes disability harassment and what does not.

Typically, it is understood that disability harassment is behavior that points out a disability in a negative way. Making fun of someone on the basis of his or her disability, for instance, is a very clear example of harassment. Less obvious but equally serious harassment might include being patronizing, asking embarrassing questions, or focusing conversation on the disability. The problem with this definition of disability harassment is that the behaviors in question are often subtle and harassers may not know that they are making the disabled person uncomfortable. Likewise, a person who is mentally disabled may not know that he or she is being patronized or made fun of.

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In order for a behavior to be considered harassment, the person who is the subject of the behaviors must usually object to the treatment. Many friendships involve joking about otherwise taboo subjects, which might include disabilities, race, or other protected classes. Also, people who are disabled might object to one form of harassment but not another. Typically, it is very difficult to prosecute someone for disability harassment unless the person who has acted in a harassing manner has been asked to stop the behavior.

It is important to recognize that there is a difference between harassment and discrimination. Problems like being unable to access a building or being passed over for a promotion due to one's disability are better considered discrimination. While both crimes are serious, harassment implies a sort of menace that need not necessarily be present in discrimination, as discrimination problems are usually due to lack of consideration or resources.

When disability harassment occurs, it is important to first follow any rules regarding the incident that relate to the place where it occurred. For instance, if the incident occurs at work or school, then taking the appropriate steps within the company or institution is typically advisable. If that is not an option, seeking the help of a lawyer is likely the best way to get justice after suffering harassment.

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Discuss this Article

anon970167
Post 3

Even though I am a disabled woman, my entire family harassed me. My husband, my mother and entire family members harassed me. They are erratic people. They did not support me financially.

anon357909
Post 2

I am a disabled service connected veteran. I went to China to live for four years because it took that long to settle my case. I could not work and could not afford to live in the country I served and protected. While in China, I met and married a wonderful woman. I did not lose an arm or leg. My back was crushed and I have metal rods and screws holding me together so that I can stand and walk.

My problem lies solely with my family. I constantly hear from them what a piece of crap that I am. They can not see my injuries and always have something to say about me working the system and too lazy to work. Now they are attacking my wife and daughter because they are from China.

Makes me question every day what exactly I was fighting for when I was injured

anon349945
Post 1

I feel like I have been harassed by a surgeon. Even if he meant well, he made my life difficult. I never asked him to intrude into my life, but he took it upon himself to control my life. I felt that he has made a negative impact on my life. I feel like a loser and have not accomplished any of my goals because he cared about me.

I never asked him to care about me in any way, but he had to butt into my business. I don't even know these men and they pry into my life and ruined my life financially. I will never get the money that I could have made. I don't understand why work establishments don't take action on those who have been harassed.

I am bitter and angry that they had to play the role of having my best interests at heart. I never asked them! I can imagine they have discriminated against me in many ways. I don't understand how they can do that to me. I never thought that professionals would put me on a roller coaster ride. I feel that, for some reason, I cannot get rid of this one surgeon out of my life. I hear him sometimes at night riding his motorcycle.

I wonder if he and others will let me have peace in my life. I feel like I don't have a choice of meeting someone I would like to have in my life. I often see one of his friends at places that I go to. I saw one person that I know he knows and I would see him with his girlfriend at the park where I used to go to walk.

Frankly, I feel it is a little of both: harassment and taking my rights away by discriminating against me. I feel that I am always being discriminated because of my brain injury and for a doctor to take it upon himself to make decisions for me is not right. They are taking my rights away and I have been struggling because of him caring. I never asked him for his concern, and then another came along and did the same thing to me.

Between them both, they have had me on a roller coaster ride. They have cost me a financial burden and I will not get any money back because of them. I want him to leave me alone forever!

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