As a society, we have become a lot more “politically correct” in the past decade. There a lot of people who think this is a bad thing (*cough* Donald Trump supporters *cough*). I may get into this more in another post, but my view is that political correctness is really just being a decent person. Regardless, one of the “isms” that has been mentioned more in the past year is ableism. As a disabled person, this directly affects me, but it isn’t being addressed by a lot of people out there. Quite frankly, I’m sick of that. We need to talk about ableism.
What is Ableism?
Ableism is “discrimination or prejudice against individuals with disabilities” (definition). Like all forms of discrimination, it can be blatant or implied. Some people might not even realize that they are being ableist. In fact, I don’t remember hearing the word before at least a year ago. That’s not to say that there wasn’t ableism – it just means that ableism wasn’t discussed. A lot of ableism tends to come from people just not being aware of people who have disabilities, what their lives are like, or how a healthy person’s actions affect them.
Obvious Examples of Ableism
Example 1: Jennifer Esposito has Celiac disease and it got to the point where her doctor told her that she had to reduce her hours on the CBS show Blue Bloods. Instead of working around her doctor-prescribed schedule, the network removed her from the show. This isn’t even an assumption on my part – “A CBS representative told The Hollywood Reporter that Esposito is ‘unable to perform the demands of her role, and we regretfully had to put her character on a leave of absence.” This is discrimination against her because of her autoimmune disease.
Example 2: Parking in handicapped spot when you aren’t handicapped and/or don’t have handicapped parking. You have to have a permit to park in these spots, even if you are just waiting on someone or something. (And if you are using someone else’s handicapped placard, you should be ashamed of yourself.) If you are in a handicapped spot with your flashers on, other than being wrong, it’s still illegal. To learn more about my horrible experience, read the post about the time I ended up sobbing in a parking lot.
Example 3: Not having handicap-accessible entrances or buildings. You probably never thought about how inaccessible some places are until you had to go on crutches. Recently, the Government Center T station reopened in Boston after being under construction for several years. As a part of this, they made it handicap accesible for the first time. In the articles and the interviews about it, everyone kept talking about beautiful the station is now – and oh isn’t it wonderful that it’s now accessible? You shouldn’t get a pat on the back for being a decent human.
Less-Obvious Examples of Ableism
Example 1: “But you don’t look sick” – Really? Really?
Example 2: Judgment from people when they see me walking one minute and in a wheelchair the next – Just because I’m often in a wheelchair doesn’t mean that I can’t walk. It means that I can’t walk long distances or that I shouldn’t be walking.
Example 3: “But you were fine yesterday” – No, actually, I wasn’t. You just thought I was.
Example 4: Saying “I’m so depressed” when you’re down or feeling sad. – Depression is a disease and you shouldn’t make light of it. As the National Institute of Mental Health says, “Depression (major depressive disorder or clinical depression) is a common but serious mood disorder. It causes severe symptoms that affect how you feel, think, and handle daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, or working. To be diagnosed with depression, the symptoms must be present for at least two weeks.”
Example 5: Saying “I totally had an anxiety attack” when you were a little stressed – As someone who experiences anxiety attacks, this bothers me so, so much. The closest I can compare it to is it’s kind of like spraining your ankle or, in the more extreme ones, like breaking it. But that doesn’t really do it justice. It’s not an exact comparison, but you get what I’m saying. It’s so insulting to me when someone hears that I live with extreme pain from my autoimmune arthritis and they tell me that they kind of get what that’s like because they twisted their ankle once. That’s kind of what it’s like when someone feel a little stressed and they say that they totally had an anxiety attack.
Example 6: Legally, companies can’t fire someone for being disabled. But they can fire someone because they use too many sick days or for not being a good fit for the job (like retail).
Why do we need to talk about ableism?
Because your actions and words have consequences – Telling someone who has depression to get over it or that other people out there have it worse can have real, serious effects. If someone has serious depression and their loved ones make comments like that, they might believe that they don’t matter and no one cares about them. Do I need to draw you a map of where that can lead? And if you park in a handicapped spot just to run into the supermarket, it could mean that someone who needs that spot won’t be able to go grocery shopping that day or they end up in extreme pain. If a store doesn’t have enough handicapped parking spots, a handicapped person might not be able to shop there.
Because there are people who look healthy but aren’t, and they’re majorly suffering due to companies and the people they love exhibiting ableist behaviors – Did you know that approximately 96% of people with illnesses have invisible ones? This means that you can’t tell that they are ill by looking at them. These people are the ones who are harassed for looking fine but being in a wheelchair, the ones who are shamed for being sick.
Again, this isn’t about being politically correct. It’s about being a relatively decent human being.