My disability is, for many, also a marker of identity. In the parlance of pop culture, I was “born in the wrong body.” In the words of the DSM, I have “evidence of a strong and persistent cross-gender identification.” While I am agnostic about the etiology of my disability, I began treatment before graduate school, which involved therapy, hormones, surgery, and navigating a lot of legal forms and paperwork.

My colleagues don’t know about my gender history (in other words, I “pass” as the gender that’s finally on my identification), but I still view my physiological situation as a disability. I realize that there are others in my situation who would shirk this description, and I am do not mean to imply that any transsexual or transgender individual is thereby disabled.

However, this is a physical condition for which I must constantly medicate myself and for which I’ve had significant surgeries. I live with the fear that my colleagues will discover my past history, which is a source of some not-insignificant anxiety. While I can physically use the bathroom as anyone else of my gender can, that doesn’t erase the anxiety that this space prompts when I enter it. At the same time, I often am privy to conversation about “tr***ies” that I’d rather not hear.

For the voyeurs reading and wondering if I am your colleague that you think is a little too “masculine” to “really be a woman”, or a little too “effeminate” to “really be a man”, I won’t disclose “which way” I’ve gone. Imagine the presumed cisgender female colleague that you’re ignoring used to be one of the “guys.” Does that make you want to consider her argument more? Imagine that the presumed cisgender male colleague who you’re telling about the female speaker’s attire used to be “a woman.” Does that make you want to rethink your objectification?

I’m on anti-depressants, I’m comfortable with myself and am successful in my field. However, that doesn’t mean my body isn’t the locus of intense anxiety and self-doubt. Combine that with the pervasive misogyny in this field, and I’ve got a lot to overcome. I am hoping that I can be part of those who are overcoming the latter, and that in turn will help the former.

Joel Wright

My name is Joel.  I am a student of philosophy, a special education teacher in training, and a person with a physical disability.  My disability is unique and nameless, which I have always liked; it is the result of prenatal neurological damage, and is manifested through severe scoliosis and kyphosis, impaired fine motor skills, poor balance, and an altered gait.  (I am often mistaken for someone with cerebral palsy.)

I majored in philosophy in college, and then, after a series of disastrous spinal surgeries, I enrolled in a Master’s program in philosophy at the University of Chicago.  I wrote about many areas of philosophy, including language, pragmatism, phenomenology, and religion. (Wittgenstein, James, Heidegger, Kierkegaard.)  I graduated from UChicago in ’08, and found myself a philosophy-degree holder in the job market.  After spending one more year in Chicago interning at a publishing company and looking for temp work, I followed my then-girlfriend and now-wife to the University of Illinois, where she is enrolled in a Library Science program, and I am getting my teaching degree in Special Education.

I’m interested in this website because I have seen the positive effects that philosophy can have “in the world.”  I had a professor who once told me that, “The most dangerous thing is when they let philosophers out into the world.” Special education – the education of people with disabilities – is a civil rights issue.  I am currently investigating critical race theory, and am interested in applying that theory specifically to special education.  I would love to see this site become a resource for persons with disabilities and an advocate to improve people’s lives through the application of philosophical concepts.


I have always been looked upon as having an outgoing, expressive and compassionate personality; others who have been asked to describe me use the words/phrases ‘happy’, ‘ambitious’, ‘humorous’, ‘intelligent’ and ‘kind’. I even had a teacher nickname me ‘smily’, and have developed the reputation around my department of ‘always laughing’. Some philosophers say that what the Other confirms of me, is a good indication to what I really am.

But there seems to be one very key thing missing in this description: ‘rape survivor’, ‘ex-cutter’, ‘mild to intense PTSD’. I guess they wouldn’t really know those things, though, would they?
I’m ashamed. It’s been 8 years now, and I still feel dirty. I still go through periods of feeling worthless, depressed, experience severe flashbacks (which usually occur at night in the form of very detailed auditory, sensory and visual dreams), paranoia (which can be either mild or intense, depending on my mood, the flashbacks, and any triggers), anger, trust issues and severe anxiety at the prospect of a loss of control. At the end of my Undergraduate degree, which I did in a small town, I felt as though I had grown so much; it seemed like I had finally gotten all of this under control. My marks were high, I was getting ready to begin my Masters in Philosophy, and I was moving to a new city. Everything felt so… right.

But then I moved. And all of a sudden, the symptoms weren’t so manageable. Living in a big (very big) city for the first time is intimidating and daunting for just about anyone. But for someone who has experienced something like what I have, the city is like a constant trigger. The minute the sun goes down, everything becomes dangerous. Even the most mundane things register as ‘threat’.
Needless to say, this has all made coping with the change of a new school, new work load, new peers and new city very difficult. My support system isn’t here, and my comfort zone is gone. The lack of control I felt was sometimes overwhelming. Teaching tutorials bright and early are extremely difficult after a night of flashbacks, especially since my ‘danger’ mode is easily triggered at that point by the close proximity of males. Further, witnessing the ease and authority people use to speak of rape examples during an ethical debate, for example, is shocking, irritating and offensive. How can they even begin to posit an idea of what I go through on a daily basis? How can they defend the perpetrator?

Having said all of that, I still find solace in my work; I still use my philosophical projects as a way to find answers to questions I am still unsure of, and I am still (somehow) managing to maintain a 4.0 gpa. But my bias because of my experience is strong. And I fear that will have negative consequences for my future career as an academic philosopher.

So, I guess the point, then, is this: Those philosophers who advocate for a confirmation theory of identity didn’t seem to account for cases like this.

Or did they?


A unique burden of depression is the strong doubt about whether the disability even exists.

In the larger culture, depressives are suspected of just having the “wrong attitude” toward life. Since one’s attitude is seen as voluntary, moreover, depressives are regarded as weak-willed or irresponsible in cultivating the right attitude. The label of a “medical condition” is thus seen as an excuse. Accordingly, medications are regarded as a “crutch” used by those who lack true grit.

The worst part is that depressives are highly prone to self-doubt already. So, even though psychiatrists reassure us, we often acutely feel these doubts ourselves. “Maybe I am to blame for my own unhappiness.” “Maybe I really can just snap out of it.” “Surely, medication is sometimes over-prescribed—is that true in my case?” This last doubt struck especially hard when I first moved to [major city], after graduate school. Upon reading my scripts, my new pharmacist blurted out “wow, I’ve never seen anyone on so many anti-depressants!” (Unbelievable, I know, but true.) The self-doubts persisted even when the condition threatened my life (twice). Was I ultimately to blame for getting so close to the edge?

The irony is that depressives often invest far more effort in cultivating a positive mindset. This is so, even though depression often comes with a lack of motivation. (And how do you become motivated to become motivated?)

To be depressed just is to have more and stronger inclinations toward negativity. (This is what distinguishes depression from merely “going through a rough patch.”) We all know people who seem especially positive. The flip side, unfortunately, is that some are disposed to be especially gloomy. The sad feelings and disturbing thoughts enter our minds against our will. Depressives thus end up exerting more will power to maintain a positive outlook. We are dealing with a real disability. I know that now.

Raymond Aldred

I am currently completing my Masters degree at the University of Calgary, and writing my thesis on cognitive disability and agency. Prior to my current degree, I completed an honors degree at the same educational institution and wrote my thesis on disability and the body. I am largely interested in philosophical questions about disability, philosophy of sex, philosophy of love, neurophilosophy, philosophy of mind, neuroethics and ethics.

The condition I have been blessed with is the degenerative muscle disorder Muscular Dystrophy wherein my body slowly deteriorates around me, I become weaker, and there is very little I can do about it. As such, I have used many modes of performances to get around in my life: I went from walking, to using a manual wheelchair nearing the end of my undergraduate degree, to currently using a power wheelchair. My disability is very visible, and therefore it is accompanied by many wonderful attitudes and assumptions about me: people wonder if I can love, have sex, compete philosophically, and succeed on my own. These assumptions I believe have lead to a degree of marginalization and social isolation which I struggle to free myself from. No doubt, my peculiar embodiment has led to a unique philosophical perspective on matters people rarely think about and it motivates me to do the philosophical work that I do.

My philosophical career has been met with various structural barriers that frustrate my success in an academic setting, from surprisingly having to write my GRE without accommodation, to not being able to go to conferences because of not being able to afford to pay an assistant to attend with me. However, along the way, I have met many people who I share deep friendships with, and who share in my frustrations. As I prepare to hear back from universities about my PhD prospects I am a bundle of nerves, but it is nice to find some solidarity that there are other philosophers out there who have succeeded, in spite of being under-represented in academia.

Maeve M. O’Donovan

On the second night of the 2008 Attention Deficit Disorder Association (ADDA) national meeting attendees were invited to participate in an open‐microphone session. While the performances of piano compositions, songs, poems, and mini‐plays were enjoyable, it was the amateur comediennes who stole the night. One joke in particular sent the audience into such fits of laughter that many around me were crying from laughing so hard. It was the funniest thing we had heard in a long time. The joke uses the nickname for persons with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, ADDers, and is quite simple: Question: “How many ADDers does it take to change a light bulb?” Answer: “Get over it, it’s never gonna happen.”

This basic, formulaic joke captures the essence of living with ADHD. Everyone to whom I’ve told it, since, who lives with or is close to someone with ADHD, has much the same reaction as the audience. Why? Because living with ADHD is painful, it’s frustrating‐‐especially for spouses and parents of ADDers, and it is, ultimately, somewhat predictable. Easy household tasks, such as changing a burnt out light bulb or remembering to move wet laundry from a washer to a dryer, can become insurmountable tasks for the ADHD person. The appeal of the joke, then, is that when ADDers and their families recognize the ADHD reality, accept it, and try to ‘get over it,’ instead of ignoring or denying the link between such behaviors and ADHD, the same reality can also, finally, be funny.

I tell this story for two reasons: because it was at the conference that I felt disabled for the first time in my life, and because it was during the open‐mic that I felt more a part of a community than I ever have. I was diagnosed with ADHD and a learning disability at the end of my first year in a doctoral program (1993). Having never heard of either, I immediately turned to my own discipline, philosophy‐‐the study of thinking, for insight. Finding little in philosophy to help me, I redirected my attention to disability studies‐‐but this search, too, was not as fruitful as I had expected. Why, I have recently begun to wonder, did I have such difficulty finding in academia the kind of community I experienced at ADDA? (This is from a paper I gave in 2009–so I am not asking to remain anonymous)

I am THRILLED that this blog has been created, and am encouraged by the increasing amount of work being done on disability in philosophy. Finally, a community.

Anna-Sara Malmgren

I have recurrent major depression and panic disorder. (Both run in the family, but on different sides.) I started having panic attacks when I was about 14, and first got diagnosed with major depression at 18. But moved abroad shortly after that, and refused treatments for years—somehow forced myself through three or four more depressive episodes, plenty of panic attacks, and an undergraduate education. Then things got better for a while, until shit really hit the fan in 2001. Eternally grateful to a couple of individuals who understood the situation much better than me, who persuaded me to sit tight and to finally seek professional help, and who were there for me in the ensuing months (and years). (You know who you are. I love you, and I think you saved my life.) Also very grateful to the good psychiatrist I had the luck to be assigned—he didn’t give up when none of the standard treatment methods seemed to make any difference; nor, later on, when I prematurely and stupidly decided to go it alone again.

Since then I’ve had a couple of longish recurrences, but things are under control now and have been for quite some time. I hope—and plan, to the extent one can plan—for them to stay that way. I still get plenty anxious, and have various associated challenges (affecting me both on and off work). But this is nothing— things are fine—compared to when I’m truly depressed; then I can’t do anything much of a constructive sort at all: sleep, read, eat, write a one-sentence e-mail.

Like Carrie I don’t tick the ‘disabled’-box, and I’ve never talked about this publicly before—certainly not with colleagues (that aren’t also close friends). It makes me feel quite exposed. But a recent encounter with a younger philosopher who’s facing similar troubles made me aware of this blog and prompted me to submit a post. Time to get rid of the hang-up I still have about this, methinks. And the possibility that I could help someone, even just a bit, by sharing the outline of my story here, is obviously worth a little dent in my pride and my privacy.

Anna-Sara Malmgren Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Stanford University