So I had a really unpleasant experience on Saturday night - a woman harassed me in a movie theater because of my guide dog and her perceived notion of “blindness.” I was going to blog on it, and I still might, but the whole issue got me thinking about something related that deserves discussion.
It’s not talked about as much as other “-isms” (racism, sexism, etc). Some might say it’s because it happens less, it’s less prevalent, etc. But I don’t think so. I think people need to talk about it way, way more than they do now, and in a very different.
When most people think of ableism or discrimination against disabled people, they think of distinct, extreme, obvious things - disabled people being rejected for jobs they are qualified for, for instance. And while that happens, I don’t think the average person realizes the ableism that occurs in every day life.
Here’s an example from my upsetting encounter Saturday night.
After being harassed by a woman who was accusing me of faking my disability and threatening to call the cops to the theater, a worker approached me and asked me for “proof” that my dog was really a service dog. I informed that asking me for proof is illegal in the US as many service dog users self-train their dogs and wouldn’t have “proof.” She assured me she believed me and was on my side, but if she was going to report the woman to her manager, she knew her manager would ask if she got “proof” from me first.
Sounds logical, right? I mean, she was just trying to protect me.
Except not really.
I had done nothing wrong. I was within my rights to have my service dog. I hadn’t even complained about the woman harassing me yet. *I* was the one being attacked - and yet, *I* had to provide ID and proof that I was disabled/my dog was a service dog. If the woman had called the police like she threatened, she would have been the one in trouble, not me. If the theater was really on my side, they would have stood up to the woman, regardless of my “proof.”
Sadly, there’s this odd perception that people “pretend” to be disabled to get perks.
No, really, there is. After telling this story, I had numerous people tell me “Well, they have to ask for proof because people take their non-service dogs places.” I won’t say this NEVER happens, but I will say I doubt it happens very often. And, on top of that, even service dogs can be asked to leave any facility if they are misbehaving/clearly a threat.
But, as I said, lots of people seem to think abled people fake disabilities. I’ve been yelled at numerous times for “faking” my blindness because I “looked” at something. Well, yeah, I did look - because I have some remaining vision. But people don’t know that. They don’t know that 90% of blind people have some remaining vision. And before they ask questions, they make decision. They place themselves as the morally correct and attack the person they assume is doing something wrong.
This opens up a whole topic of invisible disabilities that I don’t think I can go into right now. But, just FYI, invisible disabilities are a thing.
So you’re probably think “Well, I get all that - I wouldn’t do that - I’m not ableist.” But more there’s more to it than that.
This post is getting lengthy, so let’s get into lists. Okay, here are a few ableist things lots of people do with no ill will or intent that are still offensive/inappropriate.
1. Using phrases like “What are you, blind/deaf?” Even if unintentionally, it implies that blind/deaf/other disabilities are bad things. Or that only someone with those disabilities could do something like run into a door, not hear someone yell to them, etc. It turns the disability into an insult.
2. Referring to non-disabled people as “normal.”
3. Telling a disabled person how “amazing” or “brilliant” they are for doing normal things or just being alive - I don’t know. Strangers tell me how “amazing” I am for going upstairs. It’s obnoxious.
4. Assuming a disabled person won’t enjoy doing something because of their disability rather than asking them. (See also: assuming a disabled person’s limitations rather than letting the person state their own limitations.)
5. Assuming a disabled person requires your help before asking. (It implies the disabled person isn’t capable. Always ask or, even better, wait to be asked.)
6. Describing a disabled person by their “struggles.” So, like, in books where half the narrative is about how HARD it is for that disabled person because of their disability.
7. Talking to a disabled person only about their disability - keep in mind they have full lives outside of their disability.
8. Speaking on behalf of people with disabilities instead of letting them speak for themselves or asking them how they feel about something first.
9. Attempting to relate your abled experience in a conversation about disability. For example, during conversations about blindness, I’ve had numerous people say they “get it” because they once did an exercise where they were blindfolded for x-amount of time. Not the same thing, guys.
10. Whining about “perks” disabled people get (special seating, special parking, boarding planes first, getting extra time on tests, getting to take their dogs everywhere, etc). Abled people are privileged, and none of these small things makes up for that for those of us with disabilities. Also, even if you can’t SEE a disability, it’s best to let it go. Again, not all disabilities are visible, and disabled people are frequently accused of lying when they aren’t. It’s stressful and upsetting.
So yeah. That’s definitely not ALL of the smaller ableist things that occur in daily life, but maybe a few that will get some people thinking. Also, I”m very open to having a discussion about this. I am not the “voice” of disability (oh, yeah, let’s add an eleventh note - Saying things like “my cousin is disabled and he isn’t offended by….” No one speaks for the whole minority group. We all have different perceptions) so if you want to add or if you disagree - I’m open to hearing it.
In the mean time, thanks for reading this massive, massive tumblr post.
One time at a carnival, they tried to take away my white cane because it “could be used as a weapon” - and later some little kids stole it and were hitting each other with it, which was somehow MY fault rather than the fault of the kids’ & their parents.