Throughout my time of being a teen with a disability I have noticed a tremendous amount of ableism in our society that I have been meaning to address for quite some time. While reading this how-to its is very important to realize that all disabilities are different and that I can truthfully only speak from my own experiences and the experiences of friends of mine with disabilities.
Terms and words to stop using:
Lame- This word literally translates to “broken” in Old English. This term was originally used as a descriptor to people and animals with disabilities. In todays society lame is word used to mean uncool or stupid. It is extremely ableist to equate uncool and disabled.
Cripple- This is an extremely offensive term!!!!! It's outdated and unnecessary. A storm is not “crippling” and neither is depression or anxiety. I have suffered with depression in my past and I know how debilitating depression can be but tagging an ableist term in front of a condition is still offensive. If you suffer from a mental illness that leaves you incredibly weak use words like “extreme” or “debilitating” to describe what you are going through. (the same goes for the word “handicapped”… Stop using this a an adjective to describe something not relating to disability. Actually just stop using it in general)
Retarded- Come on guys, this is old news. The r-word is another old fashioned word that has grown to be very derogatory and hurtful. Just like, “lame”, disabled is not the same as stupid.
Blind- When you want to say that you didn't realize something, remember its not the same as being visually impaired. You aren't “blind” to ignorance, you just didn't realize it.
Deaf- "Are you deaf?” This shouldn't be what you say to someone who isn't paying attention. Being hearing impaired is something that real people deal with and shouldn't have a negative connotation.
“in a wheelchair” or “wheelchair bound”- I am not bound to my wheelchair, my wheelchair is a tool that I use. The pc way to talk about someone who uses a wheelchair is to say “wheelchair user” or "person who uses a wheelchair"
“disabled person”- Always define the person first. This may seem subtle but it makes a difference, instead say, “a person with a disability”
It is important to remember that many people don't realize what they’re saying might be ableist, but if you want to be an ally to those with disabilities, you need to understand that words have power. The intention might not have been to be destructive but given the history and connotations of these words, they can be incredibly hurtful.
Listen! No means no!
I cant even tell you how many times I have run into a situation where I am doing an everyday activity (opening a door, buying groceries, crossing a street, or literally anything I do ever) when someone comes over and says “Hey! Let me help you” and continues to “help” me in a way that makes me feel inferior. If you think a person with a disability is struggling to achieve something ASK FIRST!!! Sometimes I appear to be struggling to an able bodied viewer when in reality I might just have a different way of doing something that works better for my body. It is always okay to ask a person with a disability if they need help but if the person says no, back off! Don't continue to stare at them and bother them with constant "are you sure’s”. When I first became disabled, opening doors was a huge challenge for me. often times I would be leaving a store found that someone would rush to my "rescue" and try to open the door for me. I would kindly say “Thanks but I can do it myself!” and they would continue to try and help me. This is extremely demeaning because by insisting to do things for me you are perpetuating the ableist assumption that people with disabilities cant do anything for them selves. On top of that, at the time, opening doors was something I needed to learn how to do. By not giving me my space, people were hindering my learning process. Consent is always crucial to helping a person with a disability. People with disabilities know their bodies and know when and if they need help. If I really do need help with an activity I will ask for myself!! In conclusion, don't touch my wheelchair without asking, don't open a door for me without asking, and don't assume that am incapable without learning about me first!!!
Be curious. Not intrusive.
Disability is not a topic often discussed in schools or in homes where disability isn't prevalent. This leads to a lot of curiosity about disability which is okay!!! But, we need to make sure we are going about this curiosity in a respectful way.
Things it is not okay to say to a person with a disability:
“What happened to you?”
“Why are you like that?”
idk why this is such a common one… “If I cut off your legs right now, would you feel it?”
“Is that hard?”
“Why do you talk like that?”
“That must really suck.”
“I could never do what you're doing”
These questions are extremely intrusive and can often make a person with a disability feel uncomfortable and unsafe. If you are curious, preface a question by asking for consent. Say something like “Can I ask you a question about your disability?” often times I am very happy to talk about it. This is where you can ask more respectful questions. Some people aren't comfortable with talking about their disability and when they say that, stop asking! Also, google is an amazing resource!!! If you are curious about someones disability and they are not willing to discuss it, google it! There are so many videos and websites online that talk about disability and can answer a lot of your questions. As far as saying something like “I could never do what your doing"... a statement like this is pitying a person with a disability that is just trying to live their life. We don't need your pity, we need your support.
Build ramps not ignorance.
Say you are opening a restaurant or a store or some other public place… make your business accessible to all!! Put in a ramp! Not only is this the moral thing to do, it's actually the law! When a public place is inaccessible, it feels like the business is telling me I am not welcome. I am a customer like any other and should be treated as such. Also, if you mange/own a public place that has a chair lift, TEACH YOUR STAFF HOW TO USE THEM!!!! I have been denied access to a so many restaurants and stores because no one taught the employees how to use their chair lift. If possible, ramps are always more helpful because it allows the person with the disability to be independent which is always more respectful.
The inspiration complex.
People often come up to me and tell me I am an inspiration. This is a tricky one because this may sound like a compliment, and it might be. If you are inspired by me because I am intelligent, talented or have achieved goals you aspire to achieve I am happy to be your inspiration. But if you are simply inspired by me because I go outside and go to school and I'm not ashamed of who I am, save it. I hate being approached by strangers telling me I am how strong they think I am or how inspiring I am. They don't know me and are simply feeling “inspired” by the fact that I left the house. As a society we need to stop assuming that every person with a disability is an inspiration because they are living their lives. This shouldn't be glorified. This should be expected. If you see a person with a disability doing an everyday task that you can do yourself, don't feel the need to let them know they are a hero.
If you see something say something! If you notice ableism going on around you point it out and stop it! It is very easy and very beneficial to respectfully let someone know that what they are saying/doing could be insulting a person with a disability. Start the conversation and prevent ableism. I really hope these tips and pointers helped you understand disability a little better and will help you become an active ally to those with disabilities.