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Why Disabled and Abled People Must Fight Ableism Together

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Progress is a wonderful thing, hard fought, through the efforts of marginalized people. At the beginning of a new decade, the fight against ableism is gaining some traction. I want to be a part of the fight.

So what is ableism? In a word — discrimination. Ableism is a prejudice and negative attitude towards disability. Ableism is dismissing disability for the real challenges that disability presents and the perception that disabled people are inferior to the able-bodied or neurotypical population. Ableism is thoughtlessly speaking in ways that perpetuate inequality and stereotypes. In another word, ableism is wrong.

It’s always interesting to me to watch the pushback when a marginalized group starts asserting its voice. The thing about privilege is, if you have it, you tend to be loathe to believe your advantages are just that, an advantage. So when someone starts pointing it out, what is left to do but get uncomfortable. “Why is everyone so sensitive nowadays?”

Well, let me point out that the fight against ableism isn’t a bunch of whining people being overly sensitive. It’s about recognizing how thoughtless speech can be harmful. It’s about recognizing how making accommodations really doesn’t take anything away from abled people, so why wouldn’t you? It’s about providing an even playing field for those who need it, not just assuming that accommodations are an “unnecessary advantage.” It’s about equality.

And let’s talk about accommodation. As an able-bodied and neurotypical person, it honestly takes nothing away from me to accommodate others who need it. How does a disability parking stall affect me negatively? But for someone who needs it, it matters. I might have to walk a few extra steps, but is it really a big deal? We all have different strengths and weaknesses, and someone needing an accommodation doesn’t make them a lesser person. It just means they need an accommodation. Not needing it doesn’t mean you are a better person, it means you have the privilege of not needing it.

The first step in the fight is raising awareness. I’m loving the #youmightbeableistif movement right now! Speak out. Share your story. Progress is hard to find in the dark, so let’s shed some light on the issues. I’m a big believer that a lot of our society’s ableist language and expectations come from people just not understanding how differently we all experience the world. If someone knows your story, it’s harder to hold on to judgment. Speak truthfully, and also with kindness. Remember that misunderstanding is not malice. How can you expect someone to “get” you if you don’t give some background? Help them understand you.

The next thing to do is make sure we unite together. Don’t we all want the same things? Inclusion, accommodations and representation for a start. My son is autistic and it’s my life’s mission to understand him, and advocate while allowing him to be him. I want him to be able to cope in an un-accommodating world, but I’d rather make society and his environment easier and better for him if I can. His autism has made me aware of ableism, but that doesn’t make anyone else’s fight for their specific disability any less meaningful. Let’s band together and support each other.

Lastly, we need to start demanding change. It won’t come easily, but it’s a fight worth fighting. Get involved, write letters, vote, advocate. When someone says something ableist, point it out and explain why it isn’t helpful. Support businesses that hire disabled staff and value their contributions. Watch shows with disabled actors and read books by disabled writers.

Change doesn’t come easily, but together with hard work we can succeed. I’m excited to try. My son’s disability has made me a better, more aware and more sensitive person. I’d like to repay him by making the world a better and more accommodating place.

Originally published: January 21, 2020
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