Monday, March 20, 2017

Dignity (Thoughts on Ableism)

I love the new comedy on ABC - Speechless. The show stars Minnie Driver as the matriarch of the DiMeo family - husband Jimmy and kids JJ, Ray, and Dylan.

The things that makes the show unique is that oldest son JJ has Cerebral Palsy. He is wheelchair bound and can't speak. The initial premise of the show is the family is moving into a new neighborhood - something they've done before as they seek out the best place for their oldest son to receive a quality education. The family is quirky and funny and most of their lives really revolve around JJ.

This past week's episode had a situation with the family in a grocery store. JJ is at the meat counter and, using his word board and laser pointer, is communicating with the store employee about his order. Then a business man in a hurry comes along, steps directly in front of JJ and then reaches back to the joystick that controls JJ's wheelchair and literally pushes him back.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend shared a meme/video thing on Facebook about a woman in a parking lot who encounters a man in a wheelchair. What we're supposed to get from the story is that we shouldn't be afraid to reach out to help someone. The end of the story is that the man is a lonely veteran, his wife had died, he was sad and this person being forceful about grocery shopping with him and buying him what he needed helped lift his spirits and should inspire us all to help others.

At the start of the story, the woman approaches him and he says he doesn't need help but she starts pushing his wheelchair toward the store anyway. He again insists that he is fine but she just knows what's best so continues to push his wheelchair and then that beautiful thing happened where he opens up about his sadness and such.


Ableism is discrimination against disable people. Or, favorable treatment of those seen as "normally" abled.

Ableism is when you see someone and define them by their wheelchair. Or cane. Or braces. Or limp. And so on.

Ableism is when a person with different abilities is seen as less than - less capable, less of an asset, less than human.

Like deciding to push them through the grocery store, even if they have protested.

Like handling the controls on their wheelchair to put yourself ahead of them.

I am not any sort of an expert in this area. But it's something that has been popping up more and more in my life lately. From those examples given above to real life situations - hearing people use the word "retard" or hearing from a friend about the struggles of finding a bathroom that is truly accessible to the differently abled.

Can we talk about that bathroom thing for just a second? Bathrooms have had a lot of attention lately with the government sticking their noses in to where transgendered people should be allowed to urinate and defecate.

Bathrooms are something that I think we often take for granted. My biggest complaints in a bathroom are cleaniness and what type of toilet paper holder is installed. I don't have to wrestle with how heavy a door is, if the door swing towards me or away from me, the width of the stall door or the width of the stall itself. I don't have to keep a list of businesses that do the bare minimum to meet building codes vs businesses that have bathrooms that I can actually easily use.

And how about transportation?

Check this out for a little touch of insight:

You might be saying to yourself - I treat everyone the same! How would I even know if I'm being an ableist?

Here are a few links to give you some insights. Click over and see if you've ever heard yourself in them.

The Ridiculously Simply Way to Know if Something is Ableist

9 Things That Might Not Seem Ableist but Actually Are

7 Ways You Might Be Ablesit Without Knowing It

15 Common Phrases That Are Way More Ableist Than You May Realize

The month of March is Disability Awareness Month. In my state, this means:

Each March, Disability Awareness Month is celebrated throughout Indiana. And given that adults and children with disabilities represent slightly more than 19 percent of Indiana’s population, disability awareness is important for all of us. Led by the Indiana Governor’s Council for People with Disabilities, the goal of Disability Awareness Month is to increase awareness and promote independence, integration and inclusion of all people with disabilities.

To promote independence, integration, and inclusion.

Meaning ramps and parking space and bathrooms that people of all abilities can use.

Meaning offering the same opportunities in schools and workplaces and places of worship and grocery stores and theatres.

Again, I'm no expert. This is just something that has been coming up time and time again over the past few months.

It isn't about treating everyone the same.

I see it as treating everyone with dignity and love.

I see your cane/wheelchair/different way you walk or talk. I see that you process the world differently. But I'm not going to treat you as "less than" or decide I can somehow help or save you because of it. That I somehow am smarter or kinder or, ahem, more able than you are to navigate the world.

But what can I do about it?

1. Educate yourself. Learn about ableism. Learn about the laws that impact disabled people. Learn about policies. Start googling and you'll find plenty of information. You don't have to be an expert. There is always room to learn more.

2. Be aware. When you walk into a restaurant or library or business or church or school, pay attention to the walkway, the entrance, the doors, the bathrooms, the seating. Try to determine if this would be an easy place to maneuver through in a wheelchair, with braces on, without sight or hearing, with sensitivities to light or sound.

3. Be an advocate. Learn about what policies and laws are in place that impact people with disabilities. And then add your voice to those who are seeking equal treatment and opportunity. Or maybe you frequent a local business and you realize that their handicap accessibility isn't really very accessible - let the owner or manager or corporate office know that you think it needs to change.

4. Be a friend. Say hello to someone that you notice is differently abled. Don't add to potential feelings of rejection or isolation by avoiding them or avoiding eye contact. Say hi. Be friendly. Maybe strike up a conversation. Make a new friend. Not because they "inspire" you or out of pity or because you think they're "adorable." But because you realize how politically savvy they are, how witty they are, how smart they are, how funny they are - all the reasons you'd make friends with any person.

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