Did you see that guy in the wheelchair down the pub? Interactions across difference in a public place

M. Lenney, H. Sercombe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)


Most research undertaken on interactions between able-bodied people and people with physical disabilities has focused on the way that people with disabilities are de-humanised during the interaction process. Little attention has been given to the possibility that able bodied people are unsure of how to go about interacting with people with disabilities (Soder, 1990). Looking is a complex business. This paper reports a qualitative study of interaction in public places with Elton, a young person coping with cerebral palsy. Participants were observed and filmed in a cafeacuteand a public bar. Elton and I were the only participants aware of the camera attached to his head rest. Elton and the other participants used visual symbols to assess approachability, status, ability, attractiveness, and quality of character. The difficulty in each encounter is that it is shaped by people's interpretation of the other, arrived at by their own projections of meaning attached to the 'form' of the body. There were also tensions in the process of looking: in particular, around eye contact, and the desire to avoid appearing to stare.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5-18
Number of pages13
JournalDisability and Society
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2002


  • disability
  • disability studies
  • educational studies

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