Ableism is very important to the way we view our society, especially since the majority of society thinks and knows nothing of it. While we do aim to be “good people,” we are all inherently ignorant about something. That doesn’t mean that we should hate ourselves for it, but it does mean that we have certain privileges that others don’t, and that we unconsciously benefit from systems that put them down while building us up. I talk about privilege a lot, but I understand that I am one of the few, and in order to get past this privilege, we can help those who have been negatively affected by these systems.
Now, on to the more important question: What is ableism?
Ableism, also spelled ablism is defined as the discrimination in favor of able-bodied people. Ableism takes on many forms, and can be done accidently and on purpose. In fact, you and I have practiced ableism at some point, though by accident. Ableism is something that is rarely discussed, and so in realizing that we have been ableists, we need to not get defensive and go into denial, but instead take the time to learn about how ableism can be fought against, and how we can provide justice and equal rights without hurting them further.
What are some things that we do that are ableist?
Well, let’s take a look and dissect our actions
- Addressing People who are visibly disabled through able-bodied people: This may seem very well meaning, but in fact, this is a rather rude practice that needs to be corrected. Often I’ve seen people address someone who is deaf or blind or in a wheel chair through the person accompanying them, and while you do mean to be respectful, you take away that person’s right to speak for themselves, and in a way, you infantilize them. Infantilizing someone is a very dehumanizing practice and has many negative repercussions to your mental health.
- Seeing disabled people as inspirational: I cannot count the number of times someone has come to me or my siblings and told us that in spite of our disabilities that we are “an inspiration.” This is objectification at its worst, and while you mean well, it’s rather offensive. It tells us that disabled people don’t have the same right to live their lives like non-disabled people, and it’s something to look up to when we do. That is literally an insult on our intelligence, and I will not accept it
- Using Ableist Language: This is something everyone has done, including myself. By now, you should understand why it’s unacceptable to use retard/retarded. But there are a few other words that also have damaging effect on us. “idiot,” “moron,” “lame,” and “stupid” are all forms of ableist language. Back in the early 20th century, these terms were seriously used when diagnosing people and it was used to justify discrimination in the workplace, among society and the sterilization of disabled people without their consent.
What are some other ways that our society is ableist?
- Hard to access places: Throughout the country, and especially in bigger cities, buildings are built with cost efficiency designed and not for the availability of all people. While there are general rules put in place, not every building and restroom area is handicap accessible, making it hard for people with disabilities to interact with those places.
- Lack of Closed Captioning and transcripts: With our society’s viewership moving quickly from television to online spots like YouTube, we find ourselves immersed in online media. We have reached the point where we have professional networks getting started online instead of attempting to do so through television. The issue is that when they provide this content, there are no good Closed Captioning services and transcripts provided for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. While there are automatic captions on videos, they are often very poor quality and makes it very hard to keep up.
As someone who is Hard of Hearing, my disability is thankfully something that doesn’t completely incapacitate me from working and living in society. It is however, hard to keep track of what people say, or hear my name when it’s called among the crowd, or hear people when they’re whispering. As difficult as things get sometimes, I would much rather people treat me with respect and not pity and judge my achievements based on my disability. Think about the things you say and do beforehand, it might give you a better perspective on the way we live.