Disability-Related Stress and Inaccessibility as Trauma

Disability-related stress is a type of toxic stress related to identity-based stress that can lead to pre-traumatic stress, trauma, and long-term negative health and mental health outcomes. While disabled people have known for centuries that discrimination, exclusion, and inaccessibility are inherently stressful and traumatic, modern research is just beginning to incorporate these important ideas into studies and solution-building.

For people with disabilities, disability-related stress is caused by stigmatization, inaccessibility, discrimination, and other abusive, violent, or exclusionary experiences or circumstances. These abuses can either be directly related to their disability or societal (mis)perceptions about their disability. Disability-related stress can be caused by a single event, a series of events, ongoing circumstances, or witnessing others with similar disabilities experience harmful events—either in person or in the media.

People with disabilities are already known to experience abuse, violence, and trauma at higher rates than abled individuals, and in a world designed for abled people, inaccessibility itself can be deeply traumatic. Understanding disability-related stress, inaccessibility as traumatic, and how those factors layer on top of other stressors and traumas is critical to providing culturally appropriate, trauma-informed services to advance the health of disabled people.

To learn more, browse the resources below or continue reading the Intro to Traumatic Stress Series.

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Accessibility and Disability Equity Library
Published on 09/01/2022


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People with Disabilities

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Mental and Behavioral Health