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Blogging Against Disableism Day: On Being Able

Posted May 01 2011 5:51pm
"Ableism."  Sometimes also called "disableism."  They are words my spell-check doesn't recognize.  "Disableism" isn't in the dictionary, though "ableism" is.  You might notice that the suffix "-ism"... it is the same one we add to words to get "racism" and "sexism."  The Oxford English Dictionary defines "ableism" as discrimination in favour of able-bodied people; prejudice against or disregard for the needs of disabled people." 1

Ableism incorporates many, many things.  I encourage you to read other posts about (dis)ableism by checking out the other Blogging Against Disableism Day posts .  Posts this year and previous years discuss discrimination against individuals with disabilities via reasonable access to public places, right to education, appropriateness of health care, mobility equipment, insurance, and doctors, and language use.  If you will bear with me, I'd like to take my post today in a slightly different direction.

The definition above may lead you to think of things like giving a job to an able-bodied person as opposed to one with a disability, or not providing ramps or working elevators (a rant for another time).  Today, I'd like to address a different "disregard for the needs of disabled people"

The need to be allowed to do the things that we can do.

This is one of the things that is most frustrating to me as a person with a disability.  Sure, there are many things that I can't do or chose not to do.  But I like having the right to choose for myself.  This is perhaps better explained through examples
I was shopping with my mother yesterday.  I love my mother and know that she really just wants to help me and take care of me (she hasn't gotten over the fact that I'm an adult and struggles with my disability, perhaps more than I do).  We were at the store and, first, she encouraged me to use a wheelchair.  I had my crutches and was doing well enough, with enough "spoons" (energy to do stuff) to go around, and declined.  She gave me the same look she's always given me when she thinks I'm just being stubborn.  When we had finished shopping and were heading to check-out, she gave my little sister the keys and sent us out to the car so that I wouldn't have to stand any more.  But it wasn't that we were given the option of going out to the car, we were sent.  And we were sent purely because I have a disability.  I feel like I wasn't respected in my choice to use crutches instead of a wheelchair and that I wasn't given a choice as to whether or not to stay in the store or go out to the car.

On many instances, I have had people take what I am carrying out of my hands to carry it for me, even when I have said that I can do it on my own.  I know that I appear to be struggling, but this is, in my opinion, akin to asking a person in a wheelchair if they would like a push, and then ignoring them when they said "no," pushing them anyway.  If an able-bodied person had declined having someone help them carry something, they would have been left alone, but, with a disability, my desires were not respected in favor of what someone else thought was best.

In my schooling experiences, I have had several times when people have introduced an activity and told me that I "don't have to participate."  That I "can just sit and watch."  I have been ordered "not to get up."  Instead of giving me the opportunity to choose whether or not to participate as I am able, I am already judged not to be able and had to argue or insist to be allowed to take part.

One of my very most favourite quotes is attributed to Helen Keller (and, I believe, a variation of a quote given by Edward Everett Hale) and reads as follows
"I am only one,
but still I am one.
I cannot do everything,
but still I can do something;
and because I cannot do everythingI will not refuse to do the something that I can do."
As an individual with a disability, I know (or am learning) my limitations and, in short, what I can and cannot do.  No one else can ever know this in the way I do.  That makes me the one and only expert on myself and my abilities.  I ask for the same respect awarded any other able-bodied individual: the right to choose for myself.  To be given the same opportunities as everyone else in an everyday situation and to choose whether or not to do something as any other person would be given that choice.  And the right to have my desires respected.  To do otherwise is discrimination based on perceived ability or disability ... it is (dis)ableism.

1- "ableism, n.". OED Online. March 2011. Oxford University Press. 18 April 2011
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