The aim of this article is to explore how able-bodied co-workers engage in the ‘othering’ of colleagues with impairments. Taking a discursive analytical approach, the article examines interviews with 19 managers and 43 colleagues, who all worked closely with an employee with cerebral palsy in 13 different work organizations.
The primary finding of the article is that co-workers spontaneously refer to other ‘different’ people (e.g. transvestites, homosexuals, immigrants) when talking about a colleague with visible impairments. This finding suggests that disability is simultaneously a discursive category (i.e. the discourse of ableism prevents co-workers from talking about the impairments of a colleague) and a material phenomenon (i.e. employees with impairments are a distinct category of employees in the eyes of the co-workers). Othering of employees with disabilities thus demonstrates contradictory discourses of ableism (which automatically produce difference) and tolerance and inclusiveness (which automatically render it problematic to talk about difference).