There is no way I could cover all the ways in which systemic ableism is a thing, particularly because a lot of it is so ingrained that no one even questions it, but here is a basic list for you.
The picture above is a really obvious example of a really rubbish accessibility solution. Often times organisations or businesses or governments (especially local governments to be honest) try to make places more accessible without doing their research leading to situations like this. Buildings with no elevators or with steps in the door. My own university has a very long building with several levels but only one elevator - at the opposite end of the building to where the mobility carparks are. Mobility carparks that are placed on the other side of buildings to the entrance like one of my local supermarkets are also a great example of systemic ableism. Systemic ableism is so common because the difficulties faced by disabled people aren't considered by people unless or until they experience it themselves, otherwise it's simply not a priority. For me a common issue is poorly maintained footpaths, and at times even worse: ornately decorated footpaths. Protip: cobblestones, bricks, etc. do not make for a smooth ride in a wheelchair!
|Bumpy bump bump|
Public transport is even more problematic to negotiate with disabilities. Accessible toilets often have very heavy doors that are difficult for people in wheelchairs to push or pull while moving the wheelchair simultaneously, and I couldn't tell you how many times I've seen the mirror or the soap dish at a difficult if not impossible height for those using wheelchairs. Reception desks are frequently too high and specially designed desks for those in wheelchairs go unattended or get used as storage spaces. Shops are often too cramped for space and wheelchair users negotiate store interiors like obstacle courses.
But it goes beyond physical access too. For those with hearing disabilities good subtitling is sporadic at best. Of the three main streaming services available in New Zealand, Netflix is the only one that offers subtitles. I might have been interested in Lightbox or Neon, but knowing that they don't offer subtitles and offered pithy excuses for it, I signed up for Netflix. Services that offer phone call only for making enquiries or orders also demonstrate systemic ableism. While NZ Relay is available via phone, I preferred their Internet relay service for making important phone calls to the likes of hospital specialists, Studylink, and so on. However, now that java is somewhat risky for personal information and knowing that's what they use , I'm hesitant and have to rely on my flatmates to make important calls for me.
There's plenty more accessibility issues - I could honestly fill an entire post on it, but you get the picture!
I've talked previously of the issues of the medical model of disability. Unfortunately there is still much of the medical community that holds to this negative view of disability that anything that isn't able-bodied is an affliction. Obviously to an extent this is unproblematic - if certain (non-life threatening) impairments can be easily medically rectified and the individual (or in the case of the individual being an infant, their family) chooses this, there is no problem. The problem is when the individual's agency is removed and the course of action to 'fix' the disability is chosen by others. The medical model of disability beyond medical practice holds that the individual must adapt to situations and environments designed for able-bodied people, and this can cause adverse effects for disabled bodies, further isolating them from being able to fully participate in society. For example, I cannot eat at a standard height table in a standard height chair without a great deal of pain and strain as my torso is shortened by the curvature of my spine. This means I have to carry a thick cushion with me whenever I go to a restaurant or cafe. Carrying more stuff everywhere can be annoying and burdensome and sometimes I'll forget the cushion and pay dearly with a very sore back and difficulty doing anything for the next few days, so I don't tend to go out to eat very often. Sadly with the trend towards standardisation of just about everything, the medical model is alive and well in our social systems and institutions.
Underfunding and privatisation of healthcare including mental health services additionally adversely affect disabled people. Mental illness affects a great deal of people but the correlation and coexistence of mental illness in people with physical disabilities often go overlooked. The segregation of medical services means that a very piecemeal health plan is offered rather than a holistic approach covering all areas of a person's health and wellbeing. Privatisation of health services additionally puts them out of the reach of poor people, of which disability is over-represented as I'll demonstrate soon. Then there's the issues of where you might not look disabled or not be disabled enough to qualify for receiving the help you need.
Don't even get me started on health, life, and travel insurance. Do you know how much extra finance, time, and energy disabled folk have to put in to insure themselves than able-bodied people? I had plans to visit San Francisco a few years back. These were thwarted when I discovered my insurance for travel in America was going to cost more than my air fares. Fine then USA, your loss!
Segregation of disabled students into separate schools or classes at primary and secondary levels of schooling are another example of systemic ableism as it accentuates their difference, puts them behind educationally and socially and their ability to deal with wider society. Compounding with that, the reduced interaction with able-bodied students mean that able-bodied students are less likely to understand how to relate or treat disabled students.
Employment and Poverty
Like the lecturers, tutors, and professors in the academic ableism tag, many employers don't want to go to effort to accommodate disabled people in their workplace. Some PWDs are unable to work full time, and part time doesn't pay enough to make employment worthwhile. The American Institutes for Research report a significant pay gap between able-bodied and disabled people. A pay gap of 64c to the average dollar. The gap only increases with higher qualifications. Add intersections of race and gender and those pay gaps, and things really don't go well for disabled Women of Colour!
So here we have a situation where disabled folk represent highly in unemployment and underemployment statistics, and those who are employed are often underpaid. Let's add to this the mere cost of being disabled. Doctor visits, transport to and from, parking fees at hospitals, or anywhere else they charge, costs to run a car if that's your only feasible mode of transport, cost of a mobility card, prescriptions, equipment, special dietary requirement, maintenance of equipment, etc. etc. etc. It's easy to see why disabled people make up a significant portion of those living in poverty.
If I got paid to do all the paperwork I do as a disabled person, I'd be living a very comfortable life. Forms for medical services, for equipment, for academic accommodations, for financial support, the list is very long.
If I got paid for all the waiting I do as a disabled person, I'd be a millionaire. Waiting for doctors, specialists, prescriptions, surgeries, that's all par for the course. Waiting for referrals to specialists, waiting for funding for medical equipment, and on and on... I've been waiting to see the pain clinic for coming up two years!
These are just some of the ways in which systemic ableism is a thing. It's invisible to most able-bodied people simply because it doesn't affect them. I do not blame them for that, but more awareness would certainly make a lot of lives easier. This is far from an exhaustive list, and it impacts our daily functioning. Disabled folk literally can't escape it. Have you experienced or seen any examples I haven't mentioned? Comment below!