Being Disabled always felt like a dirty, shameful thing.
Something to hide, something to cover up, something to deny.
“I have bad eyesight,” “I forgot my glasses,” “I need glasses.” I used to use these as ways to cover up the fact I was struggling. But yet, they don’t go far enough. Bad eyesight didn’t come close to my medical diagnosis or the significant challenges I experienced. I am Registered Blind. Glasses will never help. But I felt safer saying these rather than share that I was Disabled.
Society is conditioned to view Disability as one set thing. A wheelchair user. You need only look at bathroom signs, parking bay signs, even bumper stickers—Disability is represented by a wheelchair user. The saddest part about this conditioning is even as Disabled People, we too can feel we aren’t Disabled enough, we don’t look Disabled enough, or that our lived experience isn’t as important.
We don’t teach people that Disability is diverse. We don’t teach people about ableism. And so, we are not aware that thinking Disability is a physical thing is ableist thinking.
But what is Ableism?
In its simplest form, Ableism is the mistreatment of Disabled People. It stems from the power imbalance Disabled People experience in society. It is hurtful, outdated, exclusionary language. It is bias, behaviors, beliefs, and stereotypes that perpetuate harm or negatively impact Disabled People. It is the inaccessible design of buildings, transport, workplaces, websites, products, and services. It is the unequal access to healthcare, education, employment, development, and opportunity. Ableism is systematic, and we have, or all will be ableist at some point in our lives. How can we undo if we are not unlearning?
Ableism impacts Disabled People, and it can lead to a person fostering internalized Ableism. Internalized Ableism stems from the systemic Ableism of society. When a Disabled person begins to believe the Ableism they are experiencing, when they begin to feel like a burden, a problem, or less than. When they begin to believe that being Disabled is a negative thing. The psychological trauma and social isolation of internalized Ableism impacts a person’s mental health, their sense of worth, and their identity.
I spent my life navigating a society that wasn’t designed for me. I struggled in education, labeled as “special” and was made to feel like a problem that needed to be solved.
I applied for job after job being ghosted or rejected or overlooked because of asking for an adjustment/accommodation. I had more short employment stints than I did hot dinner in my 20s. I couldn’t engage, participate, or interact with the world the way my non-Disabled peers could; I felt alone. These experiences did not just make me feel like a failure; they allowed my internalized Ableism to consume my life.
Why am I telling you this?
December 3rd marks International Day of Persons with Disabilities, a day to learn and support the rights of Disabled People, but for me, it is also a day to center Disabled voices and learn more about the diversity of Disability and to unlearn the systemic Ableism of our society.
I challenge you this year to go further than you have before. Attend some of the incredible panel discussions we have lined up, check out the Disability and Neurodiversity Ignite playlist, read a book, follow a new Disabled Content Creator online, learn about the diversity of Disability and how to be a true ally, because to be an ally to the Disabled community means unlearning Ableism.
If we are going to create a more inclusive society for Disabled People, it starts with removing Ableism from our language, behaviors, beliefs, and our design.
After all, anyone can become Disabled at any given time. In fact, 80% of people acquired Disability later in life as opposed to the 20% born with it. Disability is part of the human experience, so why wouldn’t we want society to be inclusive and free of Ableism?