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Ableism — discrimination against disabled people — occurs in many forms, and is often employed without second thought even by people who make great efforts not to discriminate against other marginalized groups on the basis of race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or religious affiliation.
Could you subconsciously be ableist? Becoming aware of underlying prejudices and discriminatory actions is your first step towards making it stop!
Do You Ever Do This? You Need To Stop
As a carer to elders with mobility restrictions and occasionally younger people with disabilities, I sometimes go shopping with my customers, I sometimes accompany them to the hospital, and I'm sometimes in their homes when a repair person comes along. I never cease to be astonished about the amount of times they'll speak to me, rather than to the person in charge — to my customers. "I'm just the help, talk to the brain!," has become my standard jocular response, pointing at my customers with a smile as I say it. Oftentimes, the other person will apologize. Occasionally, however, they'll actually continue to address me rather than the person they should be speaking to.
What's worse, it's not just random people who talk down to disabled people or just don't talk to them at all — I've seen nurses, hospital administrative staff and even doctors do it on occasion.
Hang on a second, people! Being in a wheelchair, using crutches, being on bed rest or having any other visible disability doesn't strip someone of their autonomy as a human being, nor does it indicate differences in cognitive ability. About that, by the way — people with cognitive differences deserve to be treated with the exact same respect as everyone else.
If you have been guilty of any of these mistakes in the past, it's not too late to change course:
- Interact with the person directly, not with their carer or companion!
- Interact with the person in a respectful, normal manner!
- DO NOT stoop down to a wheelchair user's level to "look them in the eye" — I've been told over and over again that this isn't appreciated.
Using Disabled Facilities When You Don't Need To
Do you ever park in disabled spaces just because you can? Use toilets made for disabled people? Use a lift when you could be using stairs, causing someone in a wheelchair to have to wait for the next lift? If you look around, it's actually quite astonishing how few accommodations have been put in place for people with disabilities. Don't take away the few that are there!
On a related note, though, don't criticize a seemingly able-bodied person for using such facilities either. You don't know their story. People with irritable bowel syndrome or ostomy bags may not "look disabled", for instance, but do frequently finding themselves needing to use disabled restrooms, both for added privacy and clean-up within the stall itself, and because they may otherwise not make to the toilet it in time.