Today is the 9th annual Blogging Against Disablism Day!
You may be aware that many members of the Naked Vegan Cooking crew have disabilities and/or mental health problems and that we are often involved with disability activism.
Together with some of our friends we have collected some examples of discrimination and oppression that we face as disabled people along with explanations of why it happens and some solutions that you can help us work towards.
Experience: I get shouted at in the street for taking a few unaided steps because I usually use a wheelchair.
Why this happens: Some people have the perception that if somebody uses a wheelchair they are never able to walk, so if they do walk they must be ‘faking’ needing a wheelchair. In reality most people who use wheelchairs can walk short distances or can walk some of the time but it is painful or unsafe for them to do so all the time.
Solutions: Don’t ever assume someone is ‘faking’ a disability or illness. Don’t shout at people in the street. Spread the word that there are many different reasons that people use wheelchairs or other mobility aids.
Experience: I have been told, ‘you don’t seem autistic, you seem really smart and articulate’.
Why this happens: Some people believe that no autistic people can be smart or articulate. In reality autistic people have a range of smartness and articulateness. Some people also think that ‘not seeming autistic’ is a compliment. In reality many people don’t see their autism as something to be embarrassed about or ashamed of.
Solutions: Don’t try to compliment someone by telling them they don’t seem like they have a certain disability. Don’t assume people are ashamed of their disabilities or would rather not have them. You could just say ‘you are really smart and articulate’ and that really would be a compliment!
Experience: People often randomly touch me, hugging me or patting me on the head, when I am out in my wheelchair.
Why this happens: Some people view people who are in wheelchairs like children, or assume that they must having a learning disability (although it is also totally unacceptable to hug or pat people with learning disabilities without their permission!). They feel inclined to touch wheelchair users in a way that they would not touch people who don’t use wheelchairs. In reality it is never OK to touch someone without their consent.
Solutions: If you want to hug, pat or otherwise touch anyone, then be sure to ask them first and if they don’t seem enthusiastic then back off. This also applies to touching someone’s wheelchair or other mobility aid without permission, some disabled people see wheelchairs/canes ect. as extensions of their body and will be rightly offended at them being picked up or pushed without permission. Spread the word that nobody should be touched without their consent.
Experience: When I watch films, music, sound effects and adverts are always much louder than dialogue, forcing myself and other people who experience mild hearing problems to either turn the volume on our devices up so background noises are too loud, or to strain to hear the dialogue.
Why this happens: Some filmmakers are not aware or do not care that loud background music or sound effects mean that people with hearing problems cannot enjoy their films.
Solutions: If you are making a film then ensure that background music and sound effects are significantly quieter than dialogue. If you watch a film that seems to have this issue then write to the producers letting them know.
Experience: Almost every day people on the train refuse to give me a seat, despite my cane, because I ‘don’t look disabled’.
Why this happens: Some people think that all disabled people will look a certain way, for example having a missing limb or using a wheelchair. In reality any person you come across during your life may have a disability, you will only know if they tell you.
Solutions: If someone asks you for a seat on public transport (or you think that they might need one) then you should assume that they need it and give it to them, unless you have a reason (for example disability or pregnancy) that means you are less able to stand. It not your job to police who is and is not disabled.
Experience: Sometimes I will spend lots of my time and energy getting ready to go out to an event, only to be told when I get there that there is no wheelchair access, then everyone at the event stays inside and I just feel stupid and go home to bed.
Why this happens: Lots of event organisers do not consider wheelchair access during the planning process, and many venues do not have wheelchair access.
Solutions: If you are organising an event ensure you choose a venue that has wheelchair access. If there is no way you can make sure the event does have wheelchair access, then be sure to publicise this well in advance. If you own or run a venue then prioritise making sure your venue is wheelchair accessible.
While many of our friends wanted to share examples of the oppression and discrimination they face as disabled people, we also had friends who wanted to express the joy and hope they experience as part of their disability. Such positive experiences do not lie in contrast to negative experiences, or represent a binary consisting of people with optimistic or pessimistic perspectives, being a disabled person is a complex thing that all of us experience in multiple ways.
Experience: I’m proud of who I am. I am lucky to still be here. I have a wonderful family and I am joyous. Every day is a gift. People need not be so afraid of disability, after all that is the root of hatred. We are all stronger and more resilient than we know until faced with challenges. I’m so alive and still as awesome as anyone else.
If you would like to learn more about disability and disablism I would recommend starting with this excellent article about the social model of disability:
You can find out more about Blogging Against Disablism Day and other blogs taking part here:
If you have have more experiences of disablism you want to share then please leave them in the comments!