Abled-bodied person is a person who is not disabled. As in they have no physical or mental disabilities. Or they are someone who does not identify as disabled because any mental illness or physical illness they have does not negatively impact their life enough for them to notice (this person may have unresolved internalized ableism).
Disabled person is a person with a physical or mental (or learning) disability. People often identify as disabled. Please do not use “differently abled” as that was a term introduced by abled-bodied people and most disabled people in our community dislike the term as it others us.
Ableism is discrimination, bigotry, infantalism, and prejudice against disabled people.
Ableist framework is a narrative that demeans disabled people and puts them in a lower caste than the rest of society. This is common in a capitalist lifestyle, where the idea that we can all make it if we work hard regardless of our health or mental wellness; many a problematic narrative is rooted in this idea of productivity being the sole value of human worth, which is an ableist framing. Some disabled people cannot fit the parameters of what qualifies as “work” in a capitalist society, and thus they are deemed “unproductive” by society. This “unproductive” status puts them in a lower tier, where they are assumed to have no quality of life. Again, this is the root of Ableist Framing.
Articles that expand on the above definitions:
To read more in depth about ableist narratives and their impact, this article is absolutely fantastic: “On Reclaiming Brokenness and Refusing the Violence of ‘Recovery’ Narratives”
This next article is specific to Black and Brown Disabled people’s experiences, and shows the caste system well, how Disabled folks are seen as lesser and Black and Brown Disabled people are at the bottom. So how do we dismantle that violent paradigm that society socialized into us? This article explores that a bit too: How Colonial Visual Cultures Have Worsened This Pandemic and What Needs to change
I recognize that the ableism is often not conscious thought. Rarely are people directly thinking disabled people like me need to be out of sight and mind, but we live in an ableist culture. It is the air we breathe. It is married to white supremacy too.
So we need to be mindful of how we frame our accessibility and the language we use. This is crucial in a pandemic, where ableism is even more intense.
Let’s look at our example.
The discussion centered on people in cars (social distancing by staying in cars with masks) congregating in a physical space to see the service live.
When a disabled person brings up not forgetting inclusion of themselves and their community, immediately people said that’s what the live stream is for, and that it is too much risk to include a disabled person (especially if they need a ride).
This is a concern rooted in an ableist narrative. Yes, the concern is valid, but let’s dissect how ableism influenced it.
1. It posits that inclusion of disabled people and their needs can only be decided by the group. That it is best for abled-people to decide what is best for disabled people. It’s putting our needs up for debate.
We, disabled people, also have that same need to see people in person. Yes, it is hard as we are a higher risk category. However, it is infantalizing ableism to push aside our needs and ability to decide if we’ll go in a car to see live versus the live stream. This becomes a decision where abled-bodied people decide for us disabled people what is best for us. It is ableism to take away our ability to decide.
2. The framing of the reply centers the needs of able-bodied persons, and posits disabled people as “others” up for debate.
It is not ok to say: “I don’t want to risk you.” Only us disabled people can decide what risks we will accept for our bodies.
Instead, reframe: “I am concerned how to implement a ride system. What is the best protocol so people can have all the tools they need to assess their risks?” Or “I am concerned with how we social distance in the outdoor space. What is some protocol and/or data, so people can assess their risk?”
It is not okay to say: “that’s what the Livestream is for, so disabled people can watch that.” As again, that is not for abled bodied people to make that decision for us.
Instead, reframe: “Livestream will be available as part of our multiple ways to access this.”
And yes, the Livestream is a great idea, but it’s for everyone’s benefit and not just for disabled people. This is where reframing is crucial in order to combat our ableist socialization.
It’s crucial to not frame accessibility as only for people like me. When people use that framing, they other us by putting us in a separate category from them, and it turns accessibility into a chore or an add-on burden. Often, accessibility isn’t considered in the planning until last second. A good way to visualize this is:
- Look at a building that was NOT ADA accessible but had it tacked on long after the fact. (Many buildings built before 1990s).
- Look at a building that was designed from the beginning with accessibility in mind. (Central library is a good example)
Notice how the first one is difficult for everyone to navigate the tacked on portion, how the tacked on portion doesn’t fit the style or architecture.
Then look at how the second one has the accessible portion in the same architecture style, it melds with the building like a natural formation, and everyone can easily use it.
Accessibility needs to be framed as a gift to aid people in deciding what is best for them, regardless of disability.
Frame it as: multiple avenues of access for people to discern what is best for their needs.
Until we reframe how we discuss this, disabled people like me will end up lost, forgotten, othered, and neglected. We can do better!
This is information that can help us improve our communication with others, our community care, and our justice practices.
To sum up, Here is a brief glimpse of the most common ableist narratives with some examples:
- Society teaches us that disabled people need to be put out of mind and sight. That we do not belong in other people’s “pods” or in society in general, and thus need to stay home and out of sight.
- (This can manifest as friends neglecting to include their disabled friends in their pandemic “pod” group. Or states including triage rules that put us at bottom of list for receiving any care.)
- That some other person (nurses or biological family) will see to us and no need for community to step up. That we are a burden only biological family should bear.
- (This can manifest as disabled people trapped with abusive family, or isolated from community, or placed – often against our wishes- in under funded and often poorly run nursing homes. Or unable to participate due to lack of any accessibility resources or tools at events or services).
- That we cannot make decisions for ourselves, that others must decide what is best for us
- (I discussed this earlier in this letter).
- That we have no gifts or original thoughts.
- (Manifests as neglecting to include us in organizing/planning conversations, or using our work with no attribution or compensation. Or only listening if an abled-bodied person says the same thing).
That is the tip of the iceberg of ableist socialization by our society. I bring this up and write this letter to show how society’s socialization manifests.
For further reading:
Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space By Amanda Leduc. It does a great job of dissecting the narratives we are taught as children and are regularly fed to us through media, where disabled people are often portrayed as villains, or bad, or ugly/useless.
Mobility Justice by Mimi Sheller digs into social theories that neglect disabled people impact how cities are built and maintained, infrastructure, community building, borders and policing, and medical establishment. All these different avenues of society and our environment has an impact on us and folks like me, who are disabled. These mobility regimes, as Mimi Sheller calls it, operates to trap us into oppressive systems, and through accessibility and mobility justice we can dismantle the chains preventing us from further liberation.
Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century Edited by Alice Wong is a fantastic book that is by disabled people and discusses a lot of our struggles, fight for liberation, and other topics.
If you find this helpful, feel free to share this (please, cite me or give compensation if so).
Utilize the gifts of disabled people too. We are willing to train people on these concepts (paid of course).
This too is part of our work to undo the harmful paradigms in cisnormative heteronormative colonialist white supremacist patriarchy.