This is definitely a word I’m seeing pop up more and more, but this word has always been lurking in the corners as if it’s waiting to say ‘remember me’. It has played a very significant role in all of my life even before I was diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy because I grow up in a house where my mum has muscular dystrophy.
So what is Ableism – it’s discrimination and prejudice against people with disabilities based on the belief of what Society deems ‘normal’. At its heart, ableism is rooted in the assumption that disabled people require ‘fixing’ and defines people by their disability. Like racism and sexism, ableism classifies entire groups of people as ‘less than,’
For me, as a disabled woman I often find it hard calling someone out or addressing the subject on ableism, just because like many forms of discrimination, it can come from a place of ignorance or able-bodied people with ‘good intent’.
A great example that I have encountered many times is those that do not have a disability believe they know more about someone’s chronic condition or impairment more than the person with a disability. I have a rare form of Muscular Dystrophy a progressive muscle-wasting condition caused by changes in the genes responsible for the structure and functioning of the muscles, there is no treatment or cure.
But I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been told by a stranger that I should just build up my muscles with the correct exercise and food. It doesn’t work that way yes exercise will keep the muscle memory but will never ‘build more muscle’. Hold that thought while I go sign up to a gym and solve all my issues.
As much as I’ll make a joke out of it, it’s really not that funny in the grand scheme of things when you look at the bigger picture. I’ve not just grown up knowing this condition it’s now very much my life so I definitely don’t need someone to tell me to ‘exercise more’ As if I don’t know what’s best for me.
Condescending? Yep. Patronising? Yep. Harmful? Absolutely.
Facing ableism every day can be exhausting, and yet we are expected to be something more. We are called inspirational, incredible, superheroes.
Surprisingly we’re not all the same, everyone’s experience of disability, their conditions and symptoms are different and complex. Unless you are an expert on that condition. Probably best to button it, keeping your comments to yourself – Try learning from listening. Telling someone their condition can be ‘Fixed’ by doing something like more exercise to build up the muscles. Is belittling plus it’s also saying they have no ability to make decisions about their own wellbeing.
I’ve also received many messages from people saying ‘I have excellent news have you heard of this a cure’ or I deserve my disability because of something I did in a past life or I should have been aborted. These experiences haven’t been sunshine and roses, plus these are all based on the premise that disability is a bad thing or a punishment. Er, NO. It’s also annoying when people treat you like an infant and not the grown arse woman you see in front of you.
As much as we didn’t pop to our local supermarket to pick up a disability of our choice, don’t just assume we’re all crying ourselves to sleep every night, wishing not to be disabled. Yes, some days are hard than others, but most of my daily struggles come from living in a world that’s not as inclusive for ‘All’.
Just recently I read something where a non-disabled person had an unpleasant encounter with a disabled person ‘they were really rude and snappy with me when I was just trying to help!’ I can almost guarantee that many instances of this ‘help’ could be seen as ableism. it comes down to the ‘thinking you know better than the person with the disability’.
Scope reported that 1 in 5 brits feel awkward about disability.
The reality is ableism isn’t a rarity and this feeling of awkwardness non-disabled people feel just leads to exclusion and why it’s not seen as a huge deal. Disabled people are still just people, we can have our bad days like everyone else, scream, shout even swear, struggle with mental health on top of our physical impairments.
This is probably why non-disabled people feel so comfortable and just shrug off using an accessible facility or parking space when they have no reason to use it, other than it just being convenient for them. Ableism can manifest into verbal interactions like using disability as a punchline or mocking, physical actions or less obvious prejudice, all of which will still have significant impacts on the lives of disabled people.
Getting rid of ableism is to recognise what’s happening to push back against the ideologies and practices and remove them from society, But making sure people with disabilities to the table where decisions are being made.
What are your experiences with ableism or have you been ableist and not even realise until now? Leave me a comment.
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