problems in activism

An Update on The Invisible Disabilities Situation

Invisible Disability Project has this statement for our friends in the disabled community, activists, bloggers, and the press in response to the overwhelming support they’ve received from the disability community and allies regarding the Invisible Disabilities situation. The story has also been featured in The Daily Dot.
We mourn the loss of the Invisible Disability Project (IDP) Facebook community. The IDP Facebook community—disabled people and our allies—grew to 51,000+ members. Our community members mostly identify along the spectrum of disability, including “Invisible Disabilities®”* —broadly characterized as “hidden” or “non-visible” physical, emotional, or mental impairments.
Our community was administratively removed by Facebook on July 30, 2016, because of claims of trademark infringement filed by the “Invisible Disabilities® Association” for their trademark of “Invisible Disabilities®” (US Trademark Registration No. 4315808, April 2013).
While we mourn our community, we are also outraged by the silencing of disabled voices that this trademark commits upon all people who identify as having an “invisible disability”. Can you imagine the trademarking of racialized, gendered, sexualized, or classed identity categories?  “Invisible Disabilities®” is an identity category that belongs to people, not to a consumer brand.
At this time, we are certain of one organization shut down as the result of trademarking “Invisible Disabilities®”, but others are now coming forward. We must ask the questions: “How many activist organizations committed to disability justice will be shut down next as a result of a now-owned disability identity?” “How does trademarking disabled identities affect the world’s largest minority and the resources an already vulnerable population needs?” And, “Should an identity category ever be owned?”
A petition calling for the cancellation of the trademark, “Invisible Disabilities®”, was created by Jane Doe Crips (a collective of many existing communities coming together to speak out against this injustice).
-The Invisible Disability Project Community
*We have included the “®” symbol throughout this press release since this is an identity that we recognize belongs to “Invisible Disabilities® Association”, and fear that its omission could result in further repercussions.
Make sure to check out the IDP mission statement to learn more about them. As of this posting, facebook has reinstated the IDP facebook page. Go over and give it some love.
I have tried to reach out to some people on the Board of Directors at the IDA for comments but, despite supposedly welcoming comments, they refuse to respond. The same can be said for IDA in general as they have posted nothing at all anywhere regarding this situation and, in fact, have gone to the point of blocking people on social media who have questioned the trademark.
In speaking with some of the other activists on Twitter having conversations about this situation, we have all agreed on many things. For the sake of our identities, I have chosen not to reveal who was involved in these conversations.
  • IDA is cishet, heteronormative, and exclusionary to those who want to open up more conversation about sexuality and illness if that sexuality is non-heterosexual
  • They’re super white and not really opened to advancing the cause of our disabled friends of color, and this is represented in their board
  • This organization echoes white savior theory
  • IDA refuses to discuss mental health issues as invisible disabilities
  • On a personal note, up until recently I was friends with someone at the organization until she started using her account tied to them to spout white supremacist hatred, which completely goes against what our organizations should be working towards
  • Any organization that needs to block those who criticize them should not be running
    • The fact that the IDA does this is an example of infantilization or showcasing those of us with disabilities for funding – play nice, be the gracious, grateful pet we expect you to be, and you’ll be allowed in the dogpen, you may even get a squeaky toy– as long as we approve it first
  • How the board members on the IDA have handled this crisis situation (from a social media and brand management perspective) shows they’re not ready for the big time
  • What in the world gave the USPTO the right to allow an org to trademark/servicemark a term that’s been around since the early 1900s?
  • The ONLY reason to TM “invisible disabilities” is to stop other groups using it, including on educational & fundraising material and the fact that IDA has used this to shit on people they know are unlikely to have the means to fight back is incredulous
  • By listing blogs as part of services covered by TM, meaning they could get blogs BY us pulled down
  • This is a US trademark/servicemark, meaning that IDA cannot touch organizations abroad at least so thank goodness for that


There is a big lesson in this for those of us looking to help others – intersectionality and not being ableist and exclusionary to those you’re trying to ‘help’ with your services.


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  1. This is a fantastic analysis. Of all of it, I think this is the key point "This organization echoes white savior theory"

  2. Oh yes, times infinity. Thank you, Kirsten!

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