[Ableism: discrimination against people with disabilities.]
Is ignorance a justification for ableism? I don’t believe ignorance can be an excuse for any discriminatory behaviour. In that light I am absolutely, and unequivocally, a former ableist… I used to be very grateful to be able to walk to university, but it was because I lived close enough. Even though I saw people around me with different physical abilities, I never thought to be grateful for walking to school because I was able to. Ableist? Very much so.
Education is the number one weapon in the fight against ignorance. All experiences have the opportunity to be educational, sometimes you fall into these experiences. My education has come in the form of a neurological pain disease that makes me differently abled (right now, anyway- hey there, hope for the future!). I mainly use a cane to get around. However, lately I have also used my crutches, and some wheelchairs. I understand that I may need to use a different mobility device depending on how I feel, how far Destination X is, and a little wiggle room to cover if I am worse coming out of an appointment than I am going in.
Throughout my last year+ using different devices, I have realized there are many perceptions associated with these. Anyone with a parking pass for designated disability parking knows this. I haven’t had the confrontations some other differently abled people have, but I have been accosted by a senior before who basically told me I “wasn’t disabled enough” to use the limited handicapped parking. We were at a knee clinic, and I was either barely able to put my left foot to the ground due to my allodynia, or had just started putting it on the ground again. I was on crutches. I was absolutely “disabled enough” to use the spot. Besides, that is not a random stranger’s assessment to make. Ever. One of my next missions is actually to make cards I can hand out to people who question me in public. Why not use confrontations like these and turn them into a learning opportunity? Maybe the people using shit judgments will think twice next time, especially if they are passed a mini-pamphlet by someone ambling along with mobility devices and a smile. Maybe.
I am also looking for feedback from differently abled people, and their caregivers. In my perception, there is sort of a social courtesy where able bodied people yield right of way for those with different abilities. For example, if you are walking in a mall and a person who moves slowly with a cane is in your walking path, you would conceivably move over to allow this person a clear path. I wonder where our community is at with social courtesy between us differently abled people. I try to move over when I can, and if I can’t I stay my course, trying to non-verbally signal to my approaching peer I can’t move today. But how do we in this community see this gesture? Am I still holding on to some ableism through expecting this from the disabled community at large? I had huge issues navigating my university with the mobility devices I used there. I found some people were absolutely great, opened doors for me and told me to have a good day, while they told stories about their experiences. Those people absolutely made a huge difference. Of course there were also the opposite. Peers who not only refused to move out of my way, but literally played “chicken” with me. I was bumped by (seemingly) able bodied people who had eyeballed my awkward, slow, crutched approach for half a hallway. Those people also made a huge difference in a negative way. Not awesome, but I bet they just needed some education on the topic.
It is important to note that not all differently abled people have a visual cue, like a mobility device. There are invisible illnesses that can make a person have issues moving around. To keep the example in the field I know most about, some people with CRPS may have limits on their mobility without needing to make use of something like a cane, or a sleeve. This takes a bit more nuance, and I think it takes a real keen observer to notice a stranger’s gait and decide to yield to them. As a result, I am honestly not sure how to break down my perceptions to not feel ableist on this topic. If you have ideas, or experiences to share, please let me know!
I am very happy to say that I am now cognizant of my perceptions regarding ableism. If I could be CRPS-free, I would take it in a second. In the same light, I have learned many important things so far through this disease. I am thankful for being presented with the opportunity to check myself, and check my privilege.
I would like to invite you to check yourself as well. It’s an easy way to work on moving forward together. 🙂
(Aside) You may notice I use a couple different terms to refer disabled persons. I probably use “differently abled” more often than “disabled”, because some people find the adage “disabled” to be derogatory. I do not, and I identify as a disabled person, so I may flip flop this language. I do not mean to offend anyone with my terms used, but if something is off and I need to be corrected, PLEASE let me know! I strongly believe the words we use to describe things are really important.