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The Ableist stare: an interdisciplinary, narrative-driven exploration of staring at disabled bodies
  1. Spencer James Schmid
  1. Health Care Ethics, Saint Louis University, Saint Louis, Missouri, USA
  1. Correspondence to Spencer James Schmid, Health Care Ethics, Saint Louis University, Saint Louis, MO 63103, USA; spencer.schmid{at}


In this paper, I explore a phenomenon those with visible disabilities are all too familiar with: being stared at for their disabled bodies. Drawing on the interrelated fields of psychology, narrative, autoethnography and philosophy, I argue that staring at disabled bodies morally harms disabled people. This moral harm arises from the fact that not only does staring at disabled people fundamentally treat them as means to ends in which they cannot share, and thus, violates the Kantian formula of humanity, but also because this staring results in further, consequential harms for disabled people as well. In elaborating on these consequential harms, I draw largely on the works of disability ethicists Rosemarie Garland-Thomson and Elizabeth Barnes and argue that staring at disabled people contributes to the hermeneutical injustice disabled people face in their largely ableist world. Having identified these harms, I then explore the ameliorative potential of elevating disability narrative (with various disability narratives largely leading the discussion, including my own), drawing on Hilden Lindemann’s Damaged Identities, Narrative Repair, and hope to call attention to the ways in which our broader structurally ableist world contributes to disabled people being stared at for their bodies in such harmful fashion.

  • Ethics
  • narrative ethics

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  • Contributors I am the sole author of this work and have thus done all of the research and writing associated with it. SS is the author acting as guarantor.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient and public involvement Patients and/or the public were not involved in the design, or conduct, or reporting, or dissemination plans of this research.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer-reviewed.