Health

Everyday Ableism

No one ever thinks that they’re discriminating, or at least no one wants to think that they’re prejudiced in some way. This is because there are two basic types of prejudice: overt and covert, or obvious and implied. When it comes to ableism – or the discrimination against disabled people – the vast majority of it is implied. And part of this is that ableism hasn’t been talked about a whole lot in comparison to other forms of discrimination, so there are so many people who say ableist things or do something that is ableist probably without realizing it. That’s the type of ableism I want to talk about today: the everyday ableism, or the discriminatory things that are said and done perhaps without even realizing that they’re discriminatory.

TW: Mention of rape (because one thing I’m talking about is triggers, but it’s only mentioned in that context)

We Need To Talk about Ableism

Ableism is the act of discriminating against people with disabilities, but most people aren't aware that these basic words and actions are ableist. Here's what they are and why they're discriminatory so you can help people with disabilities by being a good human.

Words

Saying someone is acting “Crazy” – The word “crazy” means “not mentally sound” (x), and many people consider it a slur. Mental illness is a category of diseases, and they can’t be helped. There are two types of situations when “crazy” is used: to describe someone with mental illness (which is rude) and to describe something that is surprising (which is straight up ableism). In either situation, this is a word that should be left in the past.

Using the r word or some variation of it – This is DEFINITELY a slur. It may have been the official word at one point to describe what’s now called intellectual disability, but that is not the case any more. To quote Spread the Word To End the Word, “The R-word hurts because it is exclusive. It’s offensive. It’s derogatory” (x). You shouldn’t be using it in any way shape or form. You shouldn’t use it to describe someone with an intellectual disability (ID) and you shouldn’t use it to mean “stupid” (also, many believe stupid is also derogatory, but I don’t know enough about that enough to discuss it here). This is especially because ID does not mean that someone is not that smart; it is an actual, real disability.

Calling someone a “cripple” or using it as an adjective – I hate this word. I hate it so much. The only people who get to use it are people who are physically disabled. For example, I can call myself a cripple, but you can’t unless you’re a close friend (and that’s my personal preference and will not be true for everyone). And please, dear God, do not use it as an adjective or verb. “The storm crippled the town,” “Crippling traffic,” etc., all take my serious health problems and diminish it.

Throwing around mental illnesses like adjectives, aka saying “I’m depressed” when you mean “I’m upset about this” or “the weather is bipolar” when you mean the weather keeps changing – Depression and bipolar are real illnesses. They’re not adjectives, and they’re not tools for exaggeration. Using them diminishes how people see the disease and makes it harder for those who have them to be taken seriously.

Saying that someone’s health problem isn’t a big deal – You don’t get to minimize one of the defining elements of my life, especially because saying something like this implies that I’m making too much of my health. Here’s why you shouldn’t tell people, “It could be worse.”

Arguing that triggers are because people are too sensitive – Fireworks can trigger PTSD episodes for war veteran just like seeing mention of rape can trigger an episode for a victim just like lots of flashing lights can trigger a seizure in someone with epilepsy. Thinking people just need to get over themselves because they need triggers is ableist, and using trigger warnings ~ironically~ or for something like “tw: mention of Pats fans” is ableist, too.

Discrimination towards disabled people in everyday life Click To Tweet

There are many things that people say and do that are actually discriminatory towards people with disabilities. Check out these ableist things so you can prevent further discrimination (beginning with yourself).

Actions

Parking in a handicapped spot (even with your engine running and hazards on) – Not only is this illegal, but this also prevents the people who need it from going where they need to. I can’t walk for more than short or medium distances, so if I go to the mall – where I’ll be doing a fair amount of walking – and the handicapped spots are full and the only available spots are farther in the parking lot, I might not be able to go to the mall. Once, when I tried to talk to a woman about this, she ended up yelling at me and I ended up sobbing.

Blocking wheelchair access areas on busses, in buildings, etc., or just not providing it – By doing this, you are telling disabled people that they don’t matter and their access to the space doesn’t matter. You’re saying that your desire to get somewhere is more important than a disabled person’s right to be somewhere.

Not providing food options free of allergens – If you don’t provide allergen-free options, you are quite literally preventing people from eating because of something they can’t change.

Thinking that someone who constantly cancels plans is using their health as an excuse – Often, chronically ill people don’t know how they will feel ahead of time, and they might cancel regularly because of it. This is not a reflection on you or a reflection on the kind of person they are; it is a real health problem. If you think that their health problems are an excuse to avoid doing something with you, you are selfish.

Believing that someone is faking needing a wheelchair because they can walk – Not everyone who uses a wheelchair is unable to walk. For many people (including myself), I use one because I can’t walk more than short-ish distances, meaning 1 mile at a time on not-awful days and less than 0.5 miles on awful days. If I go to a museum, I to use need a wheelchair because I can’t handle walking all over the museum. This is the case for many, and the extent to which someone can walk depends on their personal health. In fact, 73% of people with a severe disability do not use an assistive device like a wheelchair.

Not treating mental illness like a real health problem – I don’t mean believing mental illness isn’t real; I mean treating symptoms or aspects of mental illness like they aren’t health problems. For example, if someone tells you they are living with depression, you are being ableist if you tell them to focus on their blessings and they’ll feel better, or that they’re just having a bad month. Depression is a real disease, and you should treat it like one.

What are other examples of everyday ableism you have experienced or seen?

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