Impostor Syndrome, Stereotype Threat and Disabilities

Stereotype threat is as big of an issue (if not bigger) as impostor syndrome for people with disabilities and other underrepresented minorities

Sheri Byrne-Haber, CPACC
5 min readMar 12, 2020


line drawing of angry person dragging heavy ball by the chain attached to his leg

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Haven’t heard of “Stereotype Threat” before? Me neither until a few weeks ago. The impact of understanding how stereotype threat shapes my actions on a regular basis has fundamentally changed my life.

What is Stereotype threat?

Stereotype threat is where people feel themselves to be at risk of conforming to stereotypes about groups that they identify as belonging to. The term was originally coined by Claude Steele & Joshua Aronson in their 1995 article Stereotype threat and the intellectual test performance of African Americans published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Stereotype threat is considered a contributing factor to long-standing racial and gender gaps in academic performance. Stereotype threat is also well documented among people with both visible and invisible disabilities.

How Stereotype Threat and Impostor Syndrome Intersect

Stereotype threat and impostor syndrome negatively feed off of each other.

Impostor Syndrome — Some thoughts associated with impostor syndrome:

  • I shouldn’t be here
  • I don’t have the qualifications
  • There are people out there better at this than me

Stereotype Threat — Some thoughts associated with stereotype threat:

  • S**t. I’m here (or I’m getting there real soon and there is nothing stopping that)
  • If I screw this up, that will look badly on all <fill in the underrepresented minority here>



Sheri Byrne-Haber, CPACC

LinkedIn Top Voice for Social Impact 2022. UX Collective Author of the Year 2020. Disability Inclusion SME. Sr Staff Accessibility Architect @ VMware.