Blogging Against Disablism: Sometimes it’s subtle….

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[image description: Box that reads “Blogging Against Disablism”.  Box is lined in black with multi-colored tiles with various “person” symbols in a variety of colors.  The person symbol most closely resembles that of the man in the symbol for “men’s restroom”.  The only exception is that the third image down and second to the left is the symbol for a wheelchair or the standard “disabled” placard symbol.]

Today is May 1st, and it’s Blogging Against Disablism day.  For those of you unaware, in the UK, what we know as ableism (or discrimination against a disabled person) is often called disablism.  You can learn a little bit about what this day is about by going here. 

So I’ve started a few posts on this before, but have never really hit publish.  I’ve been thinking about how sometimes it’s not the big horrific gestures of discrimination against disabled people that are the most prevalent.  Yes, we will often react in shock or horror at the horrendous things that abled people do to disabled people.  And we should! These things are horrible.  Making a disabled person crawl off a plane because of lack of accommodations is horrible.  It’s disturbing.  We should be disturbed.

Today, though, I’m going to talk about how sometimes it’s the subtle things, the things that people just don’t think about if they’re not disabled that are sometimes the most troubling.  These are the things that just slip people’s minds, or they’re not aware, or it just doesn’t come up because they don’t realize or they don’t know.  Or they “forget”.

I am in a choir right now.  It’s part of a larger arts organization that has various components – music, theater, dance, etc.  They even have a choir just for people who are in the early stages of dementia.  It’s a decent organization, and a huge part is service to the community. The founder and head of the organization has told us that he’s focused on making everything accessible to everyone, and I don’t doubt his intent.  Honestly, I think he is just completely clueless (though it is of course possible that he’s all talk and no action).

The price of being in this choir is $100 per season (there’s a fall and a spring season, and the summer session is $60 per choir).  That is inaccessible to a lot of people, disabled and not, but especially disabled people who tend to be unemployed and underemployed.

The director does video announcements.  They are not captioned.

I have been on stage now six times, and next week it will be eight times.  I have seen wheelchair accessible seating.  I have never seen an ASL interpreter.

I have yet to be in a show or see a show which didn’t use some form of flashing lights.  Epileptic patrons exist.

I attended a show in a new (to me) place that I’d not been before.  I was directed by someone in a very dark environment, and when I misunderstood the directions because low light + hearing/auditory issues + directional fail as a result of executive functioning issues maybe (or maybe dyspraxia related), a man yelled at me.  I later learned he was the producer of the show.  It was humiliating.

We have performed for a local recreational center for developmentally disabled teenagers and young adults, and one of the regulars has expressed interest in joining us.  He’s been met with a pat on the head and a “ha, how cute” and for a long time I didn’t understand what was so “adorable” about a 20-21 year old wanting to join a choir.  It isn’t wrong.  It isn’t funny.  He is more than qualified because this choir isn’t an audition choir.  But it’s because he’s autistic.  Cool.  So am I.  I know I “pass” better.  That’s a privilege in that my membership in this choir doesn’t get questioned, but his does.

Subtle ableism also comes in at work.  It comes in the form of an administrator reorganizing certain things in my workspace at the busiest time in my day.

It comes in the form of a teacher talking about autism as if she knows anything about it, and promoting ideas of what caused such an “epidemic” instead of being kind and compassionate, knowing at least three of her students are autistic (and in earshot). I know that has to do with the presumption of incompetence as well as the lack of understanding of how diagnosis has changed throughout the years.

It comes in the form of not being told the rules and then being scolded for breaking them.  It comes in the form of being expected to just go with the flow when administration expects me to be in three places at once.

It comes in the form of trying to avoid a meltdown and being dismissed and then actually having a meltdown because of lack of accommodations.

It comes in the form of trying to make the decision between looking incompetent because you don’t disclose your disabilities or being given a pitying look or treated like a child when you do disclose your disability.

It’s asking for things to be written down and still receiving only verbal instructions.

It’s asking for things to be done the same way every day, and the anxiety that comes when things aren’t done the way you’ve repeatedly asked them to be done.  /Stop rearranging my workplace!/

It’s every presumably passive aggressive action that you’re hoping isn’t an indication that you’re doing a terrible job.

It’s no one being direct with you.  It’s the complete lack of communication of anything important.

It’s the fear that they’ll find some ridiculous reason to fire you, so you can’t really fight against the inherent ableism that you’re being fired for being disabled.

 

Then again, maybe it isn’t all that subtle.

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12 thoughts on “Blogging Against Disablism: Sometimes it’s subtle….

  1. Where I come from, these are referred to as “microaggressions”–each one individually is not so bad, but as they pile up they make you feel horrible. Thanks for this.

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  2. I think this is really, really important, because…when we talk about oppression and ableist violence, and the ways we talk about autistic and disabled lives being devalued, a lot of the time, we default to drawing attention to the incidents of overt abuse and murder and criminalization and confinement and medical mistreatment of autistic people. And the most baldly abusive uses of ABA.

    In a certain way, those incidents are the easiest to talk about, because they’re the most obvious examples. They’re the easiest to recognize and identify as some specific action that was done to somebody just for being autistic or disabled, and easiest to identify as obviously wrong.

    But parents and therapists who are just starting to listen to autistic adults will very naturally say “Well, I’m not an abuser or a murderer and what you’re saying has nothing to do with our family, or the way we do therapy.” They ARE trying to do their best for their kid and naturally recoil from parallels being drawn between their lines of thinking, and those of somebody who murdered their kid.

    And drawing attention to disabled people outrightly abused or murdered by caregivers is vitally important. But sometimes, I think going straight to those examples in every conversation about the oppression of autistic people…can be counterproductive when what we need is for parents and professionals to recognize the ways in which they may be doing very inadvertent harm to the disabled kids and adults in their lives.

    Most of us will not be murdered by our family members or other caretakers. But most of us experience a pattern of lower-level dismissal, discrimination, disregard, infantilization, privacy invasion, denial of autonomy, expectations to function under untenable circumstances, unfair demands in jobs or school or therapy…that is constant and absolutely corrosive over time to our health and self-worth and expectations of our ability to be considered real people in any given situation.

    And any one incident doesn’t look like anything to them. But they add up to a lifetime of mistreatment and exclusion for us.

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