Let’s rant about ableism
Yet another reason to hate people
By Matthew Thomson
Ableism is a very real thing. I should know, I’ve experienced a fair bit of it during my short life. Beyond the odd talking point or half-hearted attempt to seem woke or sympathetic, it feels like hardly anyone speaks about it or has bothered to explore its presence in our every-day lives. The thing is, much like racism, sexism, or any other negative ‘ism’ you can think of, it’s often hard to spot and can seem practically non-existent. However, I regretfully assure you that, for those of us living with a disability everyday, ableism is alive and well.
When most people think of ableism, I would venture to guess they envision a scene where a person in a wheelchair is being verbally harassed by a group of asshats, or a person in crutches begin gawked and laughed at by a group of evil teenagers.
While, yes, these sorts of blatant and cruel-hearted acts do occur, in reality they’re by far the exception rather than the rule many ham-fisted afterschool specials would have us buy into. The more common forms of ableism are often subtle, and sometimes they come from a place of goodwill, but, trust me, at times they can be just as condescending and insulting as being called a cripple by the neighbourhood jock.
In my experience, people often speak to you differently when they know you’re disabled. For example, during high school we had a counsellor who met with about ten students, myself included, individually at least once a week. I can still remember her tone of voice when she talked to me: just a smidge slower than normal, emphasizing every other syllable, with a slight undercurrent of pity.
She was speaking to me, or at least a pre-conceived notion of me, rather than with me. She wasn’t trying to see who I was; she was gawking at what I was. It’s a lot like how a bad nurse speaks to an emergency patient, supposedly kind and reassuring yet distractingly synthetic, impersonal, and slightly judgmental.
This kind of de-personalization is damaging and annoying, but with time and experience you learn to deal with it. Other forms of ableism, though, are a bit more consequential. Now, despite all the talk of affirmative action every company seems to espouse nowadays, the truth is far less nice.
For instance, during my year off following high school graduation, I must’ve sent a resume out to every single business and company within a fifty-mile radius of my hometown. Not a single one ever responded. Keep in mind, these weren’t nice office jobs or anything of the sort, they were all entry-level, zero-experience-required type of gigs. After five months of unemployment, I started to wonder what the hell was wrong with me and took a good long look at my resume.
Somewhere between the ‘Prior Experience’ and ‘Contacts’ sections, I made it clear that I was a person with a disability, and then suddenly it all clicked. After consulting with an employment agency, I removed this bit from my resume and promptly sent the new version to a local business that I had already applied to.
Within three days they called me in for an interview and I was hired, essentially confirming my suspicion. Now, I can’t say for certain that I was being rejected because of my disability, however, when you apply to a dozen businesses all claiming to be desperate for full-time workers, only then for that same business to hire some 14 year old part-time, well, forgive me for thinking something screwy is going on.
Since then, I have yet to disclose my disability when applying for a job, as the employment agency advised me. Why that’s necessary, I don’t know, but, if I had to guess, when an employer see the disabled on a resume, I imagine their thoughts go to every popular stereotype/misconception, good or bad, and then decide having a disabled employee would be too much of a hassle.
The feeling of walking into a room where the people present know about your disability versus one where they’re ignorant is at times almost night and day. I began to notice these sorts of changes when I was a kid, and ever since then I can’t help enjoy these little moments the same way as when I see a parking ticked glued to my windshield.
People tend to stare at you longer, they become quieter, and sometimes they even point at you, as if saying, “Dude, look at that disabled guy!” When they talk to you there’s a slight edge of condescension in their voice, like you’re a hapless child or braindead mongoloid that for some inexplicable reason has managed to survive this long. They’re not seeing you as a person, they’re seeing you as a label and everything that comes with it.
This shouldn’t have to be said, but having a disability doesn’t mean you’re less of a person, or that your life is defined exclusively by it. They’re nothing wrong with it, there’s nothing strange or glamourous about it, it just is what it is. We’re individuals just like you, me, Conway Twitty, or anyone else. Some are smart, some are assholes, some are nice, some are white, black, LGBTQ+, poor, rich, tall, short, hairy – you get the picture. So, please, whoever’s reading this, don’t try to see people through categories or labels instead as the complex enigmas that they are.
And, in case you’re really wondering, no, I don’t get a free parking spot anywhere; no, I don’t get any tax exemptions; and no, my life really isn’t any more or less hard than yours.
I think this term has racial connotations so I would replace it