“If you don’t have to beg the stairs to let you up, then that’s a privilege awarded to you.”
There are many facets of disability and ableism but in this post, I will be focusing on physical disability and physical ableism.
Is defined as “discrimination against people with disabilities, including the expression of hate for people with disabilities, denial of accessibility, rejection of disabled applicants for housing and jobs, institutionalized discrimination in the form of benefits, systems designed to keep people with disabilities in poverty, etc.” (Source: disabledfeminists.com)
On the weekend of March 15, 2013, I attended a free-for-students conference on disability awareness and activism at Ryerson University. I noticed that there were very few able-bodied people in attendance, a sentiment that was echoed throughout the entire conference. These spaces are created not only for community building but also for able-bodied folks to come, listen and learn. In order for us to address the ableism that is so deeply rooted in our communities, it is important for all of us to be aware of our own attitudes and how we participate in oppression. It is our role as allies to attend spaces like these, listen and learn.
The first thing I will address is terminology. It is correct (and okay) to say “person(s) with disability”. Using terms like differently-abled or handicapable (a term commonly used in advertising) is viewed perpetuating denial. Mark Twain wrote, “The difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”
Have you ever noticed how disability is represented in mainstream media? Media continues to reinforce the disability stereotype of “victim”, the medical model of disability and the social model of disability, through its use of images, language and terminology. This plays a huge role in influencing current trends. How the media portrays disability plays a big role in influencing how we interact with persons with disability in everyday life. Ableism is hard (but not impossible) to deconstruct because it is the framework within which our society has been constructed for us. Have you also noticed that people with disability are underrepresented in mainstream media? I urge you to critically engage with the information that is out there by constantly questioning its representation of different people, cultures etc. This is a starting point in integrating ableism into our analysis of oppression.
Poverty is a consequence of disability. Disability is prevalent among the poorest people in our society. Our schools and workplaces are created in a way that is disadvantageous to persons with disabilities. There are too many structural and systemic barriers to accessing a lot of community services hence the two way link between poverty and disability. The Council of Canadians with Disabilities compiled some statistics from a “flagship” survey on disability that was conducted in 2006. As allies, it is important to inform ourselves and discuss these issues with everyone around us. It is also important to support campaigns which call for action (e.g. Dignity for All, which calls for vigorous and sustained action by the federal government to combat the structural causes of poverty in Canada). Want to be an ally? Why not learn ASL. It’s not only an added asset to your résumé, but you will also be an ally to the Deaf Community.
If we do not have to think about academic accommodations when enrolling for courses, or research housing accommodations when considering moving into a college residence, or consider accessibility when going to class, then privilege has been awarded to us. Having privilege is not about feeling guilty just like having a disability is not something to be ashamed about. With privilege comes the responsibility of committing ourselves to social change by disturbing existing systems and programs. Ableism is unintentional a lot of the time but that does not make it okay.
Final note: As leaders in your community, remember that when you create events and programs with disability in mind, they will always be more visible.
- The Access Centre: A YFS community service group http://accesscentreyfs.ca/
- Reclaiming our Bodies and Minds: Disability, Oppression, Action! Is a collaborative space for communities to come together, learn, network, and develop skills. http://www.reclaimingourbodiesandminds.com/
- My Leaky Body: A first-person account of negotiating the Canadian health-care system as a patient, and a passionate call for reform in the way the system treats the vulnerable. http://www.myleakybody.com/home/
- Sins Invalid: An unashamed claim to beauty in the face of invisibility http://www.sinsinvalid.org/
- Griffin Centre: A not-for-profit mental health agency that offers support to vulnerable youth and adults with mental health challenges and/or developmental disabilities, and their families. http://www.griffin-centre.org/
- Ontario Rainbow Alliance of the Deaf: http://new2.orad.ca/
- City of Toronto ASL Club: A Meet Up group dedicated to the practice, cultivation, and celebration of ASL in Toronto! http://www.meetup.com/TorontoASLClub/