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Hate Speech: Crimes Against Americans with Disabilities

  • Synopsis: Published: 2015-03-22 (Revised/Updated 2015-03-27) - Results of a survey reveal anti-disability hate-speech is still very much alive in America. For further information pertaining to this article contact: Disabled World at Disabled World.
Hate Speech

Hate speech is defined as speech that offends, threatens, or insults groups, based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or other traits. In law, hate speech is any speech, gesture or conduct, writing, or display which is forbidden because it may incite violence or prejudicial action against or by a protected individual or group, or because it disparages or intimidates a protected individual or group.

Main Document

Quote: "Various disability and criminology studies, over a number of years, indicate a high crime rate against people who experience forms of disabilities."

'Hate-speech,' is defined as speech that threatens, offends, or insults groups based upon color, race, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, or other traits. Should hate-speech be discouraged among the general population? Of course it should be. Yet developing policies runs the risk of limiting a person's ability to pursue freedom of speech. When a conflict arises concerning which is more important, protecting community interests or guarding the rights of individuals, a balance must be found that protects the civil rights of everyone without placing limitations on the civil liberties of the person speaking.

In the United States of America, there is no right to speak, 'fighting words.' Fighting words are words without social value that are directed to a specific person and would provoke a reasonable member of the population about whom the hateful words are spoken. A person may not speak an anti-disability statement or racial epithet to another person; for example. The line is drawn - if the words are likely to cause the listener to react violently they are considered to be fighting words. Under the First Amendment, people do have a right to speech another person does disagree with and to speech that is either hateful, offensive, or both.

A survey of People with Disabilities, caregivers and others who interact with people who experience forms of disabilities in the year 2012 found some interesting results being presented. Part of the survey asked, 'How did you react' Another portion of the survey asked questions such as, 'Where did you experience disability hate-speech,' and another question in the survey was, 'When did this happen.'

Chart showing reactions by people with disabilities to hate speech
About This Image: Chart showing reactions by people with disabilities to hate speech

  • 22% responded in a calm manner
  • 28% did not respond to the abuse
  • 7.3% were upset yet tried to respond
  • 1.2% asked the person speaking to stop
  • 26% were too shocked or upset to respond
  • 7.3% tried to explain their form of disability

Survey participants who were asked where they experienced disability hate-speech responded overwhelmingly in a majority who encountered it in person. 84% of survey participants said they had encountered hate-speech in person, a very unacceptable result. 11.7% stated they had experienced hate-speech online, while 4.3% said they had encountered it in print, radio, or television.

Americans with forms of disabilities were also asked when their encounter with hate-speech happened. The responses from participants was notable indeed. While some people in America find no need to express themselves in a negative, hateful fashion to People with Disabilities, others could not help themselves to refrain from hate-speech. You might think hate-speech towards people who experience forms of disabilities is a thing of the past, the truth of the matter is rather disturbing.

Chart showing when last encounters with hate speech were experienced by people with disabilities
About This Image: Chart showing when last encounters with hate speech were experienced by people with disabilities

  • 14.1% in the last year
  • 18.2% in the last week
  • 12% in the last 5 years
  • 23% in the last 6 months
  • 2% more than 5 years ago
  • 3 % have never encountered disability hate speech
  • 27% of disabled people/carers experienced hate speech in the last month

The results of the survey reveal the fact that anti-disability hate-speech is still very much alive in America. Despite the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the signing of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), many people in America continue to hold demeaning or hateful perspectives towards those who do experience forms of disabilities. Things such as able-bodied perspectives, the acceptance of hate-speech, as well as continued social lack of inclusion have in effect promoted hate-speech by those who have no respect for others.

Hate Crimes Against People with Disabilities

In the year 2007, hate crimes were reported against people with disabilities - a mere 1% of the total reported. What this represents is a significant increase from the 44 hate crimes reported in the year 2003. Through much of America's history and well into the 20th century, people with disabilities - to include people with:

  • Epilepsy
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Mental impairments
  • Physical impairments
  • Developmental delays

Were perceived as being both useless and dependent, excluded and hidden from American society at large, either in their own homes or in institutions. Gradually, this history of isolation is giving way to inclusion in every aspect of society and people with disabilities everywhere are working and living in communities with their family members and friends. Yet this has not been a painless process. People with disabilities often times seem to be, 'different,' in the minds of those who are able-bodied.

People with disabilities might appear to be or speak, 'differently.' They might use adaptive equipment such as a cane, wheelchair, or other types of assistive technologies. People with disabilities may experience seizure activity, or difficulties with understanding apparently simple directions. Perceived differences may evoke a range of emotions in other people, from apprehension and misunderstanding to feelings of hatred and supposed superiority.

Bias against people with disabilities takes a number of forms, often resulting in discriminatory actions in housing, employment and public accommodations. Disability bias can also manifest itself in the form of violent action. It is crucial that a message be sent to America as a nation that these acts of bias-motivated hatred are certainly not acceptable in any way in American society.

Various disability and criminology studies, over a number of years, indicate a high crime rate against people who experience forms of disabilities. The U.S. Office on Crime Statistics; however, reported in 2002 that in many instances crime victims with disabilities never participated in the justice process, 'even if they have been repeatedly and brutally victimized.' There are a number of challenges for disability-based hate crime reporting.

For example; hate crimes against people with disabilities are often times not reported to law enforcement agencies. The person with disabilities might be afraid of retaliation, ashamed, or afraid of not being believed. The person with disabilities may be reliant on a caregiver or other third party to report the crime and find the report has never been filed. The crime might be reported, yet there may be no reporting of the person with disabilities' form of disability, particularly in cases where the person with disabilities has an invisible disability they themselves fail to reveal.

Maybe the largest reason for under-reporting of disability-based hate crimes is that disability-based bias crimes are very frequently mislabeled as, 'abuse,' and never directed from the social service or educational systems to the criminal justice system. Even very heinous crimes such as assault, rape and vandalism are all too often labeled as abuse.

In one of the few disability-bias cases successfully prosecuted, the year of 1999 found Eric Krochmaluk - a person with cognitive disabilities from Middletown, N.J., received some level of justice. Eric was:

  • Beaten
  • Choked
  • Kidnapped
  • Taped to a chair
  • His eyebrows shaved
  • Abandoned in a forest
  • Burned with cigarettes

A total of eight people were indicted for their hate crime against Eric. It was one of the first prosecutions of a disability-based hate crime in the United States of America. It is extremely important that people with disabilities are covered in the Federal Hate Crimes Statute in order to bring the full protection of the law to people who are targeted for violent and bias-motivated crimes simply because they experience a form of disability.

Awareness: No Hate Speech Movement Awareness

No Hate Speech Movement - Campaign of Young People for Human Rights Online

The Campaign is part of the project Young People Combating Hate Speech Online running between 2012 and 2014. The project stands for equality, dignity, human rights and diversity. It is a project against hate speech, racism and discrimination in their online expression

The working methods are awareness raising, advocacy, and it also seeks for creative solutions. It is a project for action and intervention. The project equips young people and youth organizations with the competences necessary to recognize and act against such human rights violations -

Learn More About Hate Speech

Geography of Hate

ASAN Statement on the Attempted Murder of Issy Stapleton

Disability hate speech has no place anywhere - not even online

Facts: Hate Speech

  • In Canada, advocating genocide or inciting hatred against any identifiable group is an indictable offense under the Criminal Code of Canada with maximum prison terms of two to fourteen years.
  • In the United Kingdom, several statutes criminalize hate speech against several categories of persons. The statutes forbid communication which is hateful, threatening, abusive, or insulting and which targets a person on account of skin color, race, disability, nationality (including citizenship), ethnic or national origin, religion, or sexual orientation.
  • Australia's hate speech laws vary by jurisdiction, and seek especially to prevent victimization on account of race.
  • In the 1980s and 1990s, more than 350 U.S. public universities adopted "speech codes" regulating discriminatory speech by faculty and students.
  • Hate law regulations can be divided into two types: those that are designed for public order and those that are designed to protect human dignity.
  • Japanese law covers threats and slander, but it does not apply to hate speech against general groups of people.

Related Information:

  1. The Complexity of Hate - Disability Hate Crime within the UK - Paul Dodenhoff - (2014-08-12)
  2. Equal Chance for People with Disabilities to Achieve and Thrive - Wendy Taormina-Weiss - (2012-05-23)
  3. Title II of the ADA and Police Liability - Thomas C. Weiss - (2014-11-17)

Information from our Disability Discrimination: Information and Legal Cases section - (Full List).


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