Living Abled 2021: Eye-opening Ableism and how to Overcome it with Grace

G’day my friends and welcome to another weekend and another blog post! I hope you all had a great week and enjoyed last week’s post.

I had a light bulb moment this week while answering the question ‘what is ableism?’. So I thought why not delve into that juicy topic from the perspective of yours truly. Everyone will have a different definition which makes it all the more interesting! I hope to share some of those experiences down the track.

What it truly means to live abled.

a pic during my walking fundraiser. I am smiling at the camera wearing black sneakers, black leggings, pink top and a blue hat. I am also wearing sunglasses. Two other people are walking near me. The sign on the concrete reads "you can do it". My version of living abled.

The one thing I learnt very quickly when starting this blog, was ‘ableist’ language. People in the disability community talk passionately about ‘ableist’ words, comments and experiences. The first time I read about this, I was blown away by how much of our vocabulary could be interpreted as ‘ableist’.

If you are reading this confused as hell as to what I mean by that, you certainly aren’t alone. Ableist basically means seeing a disabled person as ‘less than’ and ‘abled bodied’ people use their ‘privilege’ to do or say things that can be offensive to disabled people. Anything from the words ‘crazy’ or ‘stupid’ to choosing not to upgrade facilities in the work place, or decide to go to a venue they know someone will not be able to access easily, but still expect them to climb stairs or be subject to sensory overload.

Some ableism is purely accidental, and others are not.

I have had many experiences of ableism. I have had people use my wheelchair or scooter as a footrest, someone who went to use the disabled bathroom before me who was not disabled, been called retarded or crippled, and gone to restaurants for gatherings that do not have lifts. My personal favourites includes when being in a group I am not included in conversations as i am not seen in my wheelchair from standing height, and not being able to go through stores because the isles are too narrow to accommodate a wheelchair. People with prams will be familiar with that one.

However, there is such a varying degree of ‘ableism’ that it almost gives me whiplash trying to figure out what is and isn’t ableism. Personally there are things that people within the disability community believes is offensive that I don’t agree with. Yes I know I am prepared for a backlash after the next statement.

There are those of us who hate being approached in public and asked about our disabilities, whether be it a child or adult. Some disabled people believe that we aren’t an educational tool, and it is up to parents to teach their children about not approaching us, and to teach them about disability. Personally I disagree massively with this.  I feel it wrong of us to expect people to just get it. To automatically understand about disability and to teach their children about it.

Some disabled folk hate when people bend down to talk to them if they are in a wheelchair. For me personally, I feel for people to bend down and look at me in the eye is a show of respect and acknowledgement. These are just some of the basic examples.

It would be nice for everyone to be able to just get it, but it doesn’t work that way. As we all are well aware of now, the internet is full of misinformation, and unless they know how to use google scholar, chances are people will just use Wikipedia and say they know disability.  

Personally, I am a big believer in it takes a village to create change. Disabled people are very quickly pigeonholed into many categories. In this context, we are often labeled as angry, unapproachable, rude. We are not all like that. For some, it is because we are living in a place of anger about our condition, and are yet to find the sweet spot of acceptance and quiet determination to better ourselves in anyway that is unique to our situation. I have been through that anger phase most of my life, but trust me it doesn’t do you any favours, and that energy is better off campaigning for meaningful change.

It take just one to start a movement right? It is up to us to be approachable. But, we don’t have to be an open book either. It is up to us to decide what to share with strangers and what is to be kept close to our chests. For example, do not feel that it is your obligation to share complete medical information, or a list of surgeries or treatments with strangers. Start with a very short summary of your disability and if they ever cross a line, politely say you don’t feel comfortable talking about it.

If we want equality to change, it is up to us to do the work. Not pass it on to someone else. We need to work together, not against each other. And that starts by being open to educate and to show people that your disability is something that should be treated with respect. It starts by having more disabled people in positions of power, more disabled people employed, more accessible venues and sign interpreters at every news briefing.

So if we are to truly Live Abled in today’s society, it takes courage, strength and grace. Whatever the term means to you regardless of your abilities, aim to live by it every day, and you will be surprised where the universe will take you.

Rhi xo.

for those who need a little inspo on how to start a convo with us awesome people, read how to do it like a pro here!

cover image by  Nataliya Vaitkevich from Pexels

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