Disablism Amongst Disabled People

Disablism is a relevantly new term that describes a number of deliberate or unconscious actions by individuals or organisations towards disabled people including outright discrimination, less favourable treatment, ‘hateful’ actions like verbal or physical abuse, and the one I experience the most, the undermining of someone’s intelligence or ability to contribute to society including patronising comments and actions.

I think the last component is the one that is least understood but potentially is the most widely used with less obvious and more damaging effects, because it is still very acceptable behaviour. The actions of many disability charities are disablist because they harm disabled people with kindness. Every word disabled people have tried to used to empower themselves, like ‘Dignity’ and ‘Choice’ has been hijacked by others and turned into disablist weapons, using passivity to kill people’s inclusion and expectations with kindness.

As I have said before, disabled people have nothing in common other then the fact of the label put upon them by others, and therefore any notion of disability culture is meaningless. It would be more accurate to talk about impairment culture because impairment is a common element people can relate to and share. So at best, the disability community can be seen as a world made up of impairment states, and like any world, harmony is not guaranteed as individual impairment groups battle each other for attention and resources.

The common call amongst disability activists is the call for unity, but often only said when they feel they are absolutely right and all other disabled people should obviously have to agree with them as they fail to see diversity. The reality is that disabled people can only shape their ‘disability experience’ from how their impairment have interacts with society. Since every impairment or even degree of impairment will result in a difference unique ‘exercise’ with the potential for common themes, disabled people can only guess how other disabled people are feeling, and indeed this is the central role of an experienced disability consultant.

It is very natural for everyone to assume everyone else shares specific experiences as them, especially when the media portrays specific experiences over others. Everyone around the world sits down with their wonderful family on Christmas Day and tucks into Roast Turkey and Christmas Pudding, don’t they? Obviously not and many people’s experience of Christmas Day is ignored. In translating this to the disability experience, we can see where the seeds of disablism are sown amongst disabled people and how the ignorance of other people’s experiences can lead to unconscious disablism.

I will be totally honest, I have always found it easier to train a room full of non-disabled people than a room full of disabled people, because they are far less likely to argue with me. As a younger activist and trainer, in my 20s and 30s, I obviously made disablist assumptions as I too assumed most disabled people thought the same as myself. It is only after many years of talking with many disabled people with many different experiences, that I have developed a bigger and better understanding of the map of impairment experience, and I am still learning, because that’s my job and who I am.

So we can assume that the majority of disabled people and indeed activists, have not had time to be enlightened on their place on the map, and so when they talk about disabled people, they are actually talking about themselves, and often feel they are the first people ever to understand disability. A room full of disability activists has always been a nightmare which I try to avoid, but now the bickering as moved over to Twitter, where the battles between different impairment experiences are waged in public and blood is spilt often for the entertainment of others. I know I get myself into such situations as much as anyone else, as I try and fail to talk about my experiences in the context of many others.

There is always going to be disablism among disabled people because new comers will always find it hard to acclimatise to the world of disability, especially when the difference between impairment and disability is not understood. I fear we are a long way off from some kind of ‘United Nations’ of disability experience, where the ‘leaders’ of the many impairment groups come together as true equals, to establish better understanding and togetherness on the issues that may affect us all.

from Simon Stevens http://ift.tt/1mB4Zpz


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