Thursday, 13 January 2011

Ableism for beginners

At this point in my life, I'm still fairly new to the concept of ableism. That's not to say I've never experienced it, or don't think it's a big deal, it's just that I've only relatively recently started to realise it exists.

disability parking sign
Ableism: it's a thing
It does.  As the name suggests, it's about discrimination or prejudice against people with disabilities.  At its most overt, it's about people being murdered, abused, exploited and mistreated.  But it also wriggles through society in all sorts of insidious ways.

Take the use of 'retard', 'nong' or the like as insults.  (Actually, please do take it, put it in the bin, and never do it again.)  Yeah, we know you're not literally implying that the person or object you're insulting has an intellectual disability.  The problem is the underlying assumption that having such a disability makes a person less worthwhile.  As a rough litmus test, if it's not OK to use a racial term in that context, it's probably not OK to use one relating to disability either.

While some ableist actions come from the perpetrator being a genuine jackwagon, most don't.  Mostly it's people who mean well (or at least don't mean harm) but they're just genuinely clueless about interacting with disabled people.

Here are a few tips, based on my own experience:
  • Please don't say "oh, everyone has trouble with X sometimes!" I know you're probably trying to be helpful and show solidarity, but it comes across like you're trivialising our problems and telling us to get over ourselves.  To get an ASD diagnosis we need to have issues of a different order of magnitude from just being a bit shy or awkward around strangers. 
  • It is really rude to pass comment on other peoples' "functioning" levels, and whether or not you think they're "really" disabled or autistic.   It is none of your business.
  • If you've met one Aspie you've met... one Aspie. There's as much diversity among people on the spectrum as among the general population.  So don't assume because you've met an Aspie who is, for example, a clumsy male maths whizz visual thinker, that there don't exist Aspies who are female dyscalculaic verbal thinker gymnasts. We're a diverse bunch.
  • Save the "you're so inspirational!" talk for people who are doing genuinely inspirational things.  I've been called "inspirational" just for having a job under the influence of Aspergers.  That's just silly.  Save it for people who have actually done something remarkable.