It was a big struggle for me to figure out what to write about for today's post. I already did a month long series on ableism (basically the same thing as disablism - I just prefer the word ableism because it's more prevalently used) not long ago, from which I created this infographic (my first attempt at making one - so admittedly pretty amateur haha).
So I felt like I needed to do something different. But where to start? Ableism is such a huge subject that covers so many areas and aspects of life, there's no way I could ever cover everything in an entire blog let alone one post. What I covered already barely scraped the surface.
So I decided to reflect on an average day for me and the interactions I go through to illustrate just how much ableism informs my life and likewise for pretty much everyone with a disability (whether they're conscious of it or not), and the extent to which ableism is ingrained in society.
Before I start though, I want to iterate a few things about myself and my privileges that affect the extent to which I experience discrimination in comparison to others. I am a well-educated, white, mostly hetero, cis-woman with moderate to severe physical disabilities and profound hearing loss (of which is counteracted by a very effective hearing aid - YAY TECHNOLOGY!). I have good access to medical care and a positive relationship with all the doctors, specialists, and nurses I deal with. I also have the knowledge and understanding to know where or how to find and access services to meet my needs, and adequate self-advocacy skills to help ensure that my needs get met. Others are not so blessed. The only other axis of oppression I'm really faced with as a disabled person is sexism. Add intersections of classism, racism, marginalised sexualities and gender identities, and others clearly face far more discrimination than me. What I present is merely a fraction of the picture for the disabled community.
So let's begin. It's morning so I get up and out of bed. My flatmate has forgotten to lower the shower head again after his shower and it's too high for me to reach and I'll get a face full of water if I try shower with it up at that height, so I'll have to have a shower later. Off to the kitchen for breakfast. We have a kettle that dispenses a glass full of boiled water at a time because I can't pour a kettle. But it's empty and I can't fill it myself, so no hot weet-bix for me today.
Time to get an update on what's going on in the world, so onto the computer and social media. Someone's posted yet another "news" article about a non-disabled student asking their disabled friend to the prom. No word from the disabled friend, it's all about what an amazing wonderful friend the non-disabled person is for asking him. Next... oh, another article about yet another person who has murdered their severely disabled partner. The article plays at public sympathy for the struggle that he'd gone through in caring for their disabled partner and how hard it was.
Now it's time to get to university for class. The disability coordinator at uni has ensured I have a special chair for my back in each of the rooms I have classes in, but today someone has taken it for themselves despite the big sign on the back of it specifying that it's for students with disabilities who have arranged through Disability Support Services. After a bit of assertive discussion they move and I sit down. We're shown a video clip. No subtitles. I'm able to hear it fortunately, but I cringe for anyone who may have hearing loss and struggling to hear it. Next class and my chair has been moved to the front of the lecture hall and behind the lecturer's station. I have to walk to the front and drag it up the aisle to the back of the room to where the desks have space for the chair.
I need a new pair of jeans and some groceries. I'm waiting on an electric wheelchair, so for getting around out and about I have my manual wheelchair, which I can't propel myself as I don't have the upper body strength. I need to take one of my flatmates with me shopping. We go to the clothes shops looking for jeans but everything in my approximate size is super skinny leg which involves me doing contortionist acts to put on and take off - of which I do not have the strength and energy for! My flatmate wants to go buy something but the shop is so cluttered there's no room for the wheelchair. I have to wait outside while he goes in and gets what he wants. Then to get food from the supermarket. All is fine and then it's time to pay. I have to hand my card to my flatmate to pay because I can't reach the eftpos machine, and the checkout operator doesn't acknowledge me let alone hand the machine to me. She hands the card and receipts to my flatmate even though she saw that it was my card, and my purchase.
Getting back home and on the way someone stops us. They want to know about my disability. They don't ask me, they ask my flatmate. Their kid stares at me and plays with the wheels on my chair. It's awkward and uncomfortable and I feel like a zoo exhibit.
This is just an average day. Some days are better than others, but this is all very much the norm for me. Fixing the big systemic stuff isn't going to be easy and will take a long process, but there are easy little things that individuals can do to make things better and easier for disabled folks:
- Don't assume. Just don't. We're all different and you don't know what we aren't and aren't capable of. ASK, and ask US not the nearest non-disabled person.
- If we are looking like we're having trouble with something - reaching a packet of biscuits on a high shelf for example, or reading a label and have our noses pressed up against the packet trying to read, ask if we need or want help, don't just go ahead and help without asking.
- If we're rude to you after offering, don't take it personally or get defensive. Some of us are fiercely independent, or have just become disabled and are still adjusting, or are just having a really bad day and want to be left alone. Just let us be and carry on with your life.
- You aren't entitled to our time, energy, or backstories. Don't ask. If we want you to know, we'll tell you.
- If you work in customer service, talk to us, especially if we're the ones actually paying. It's incredible how this is so unusual that I actually am surprised when servers actually talk to ME when I'm with non-disabled people. Sadly, you actually stand out as a good agent when you do. Last year I flew to Hobart from Sydney for a friend's wedding with my family. We went to the desk to check in and I kept quiet as I usually do and let everyone talk for me, because it's just how we've come to do things. Roberto (yes I remember his name, that's how unusual this is!) came out from behind the desk (because it was too tall and inadequate for wheelchair users) and addressed me personally and asked what services I needed, and even shushed my mum when she started answering for me and made me answer for myself (don't get us wrong here - mum doesn't generally talk for or over me, but this is the situation we've become used to having to do in the face of customer service workers not acknowledging me - it's become such a habit that we don't even think about it till someone like Roberto steps in and breaks the pattern).
- and basically all of these