What Studying Disability Has Taught Me About Myself + Others

Posted September 5, 2017 by Ely in Discussions / 2 Comments

It’s been more than a year since I came up with my thesis topic, which is looking at disability representation in books. In that year I’ve learnt an immeasurable amount of stuff—from disability studies itself, to Foucault, feminist theory and a wide array of other topics. I still have a few months to go on this thesis—not that I’ll be giving up my study of disability anytime soon, but I wanted to share with you a few things I’ve learnt so far.

I’m not necessarily talking theory and facts here, but more personal and societal truths. So without further ado, let’s start.

Abelism

Yep, we’re starting with a doozy. Before starting my research, I didn’t really have a name for the discrimination that comes with being disabled. When I finally discovered the term ‘ableist’ it felt like a whole new world had been opened. A world that was pretty shit.

It’s exactly how I felt discovering sexism. Once I had a name for it, suddenly I couldn’t escape it. The world is abelist, and if you disagree then you’re probably part of the problem. The thing is, I never saw how bad it was until I had writers point it out for me. Now I see it everywhere.

I’m constantly complaining to my boyfriend about the state of disabled car spots—how there’s so few of them, how some of them are literally IMPOSSIBLE for me to navigate let alone someone using a wheelchair. I die a little inside every time someone uses the word ‘spaz’ (in part because of Lara’s post here), though the words ‘retard’ and ‘demented’ have always made my blood boil.

I’m surrounded by abelists every day—on the train, in the supermarket, and unfortunately, sometimes in my friends and myself.

Where is my place?

I’ve been grappling with this for a while. Where do I stand, or rather sit in disability? I know I’m disabled, I have been my entire life. But I’ve always placed myself on the fence between disability and ability. I guess this stems from the idea that I always thought I didn’t have it bad enough to be disabled. Of course, it doesn’t work like that.

I’ve always called my disability a ‘minor physical disability’ and that’s because I walk without aids, such as crutches or so on, for the most part. Yes, I struggle to walk most days but somehow I felt I didn’t fit in because I could walk. Stupid, right?

I often get dirty looks for parking in disabled car spots or taking seats on buses because I don’t fit the stereotypical disabled image. Most people think I’m about 12 too so I guess they think I’m being a rude teenager or something. This has been happening to me most of my life, so it’s not really a surprise that I struggle with my place.

Feminism doesn’t extend to us

I’m sure lots of you know of the brand feminism right now—I’m talking the rich, white, heterosexual, able-bodied, skinny feminism of Hollywood. I know most of you will get it when I say, I do not exist in that space. In fact, disability is historically cut out of feminism. Why?

Disability is seen as weakness. (I mean, I’d like to see you move a wheelchair through a crowd, let me tell you—that’s not easy!) Feminism argues that women are not weak, or passive or in need of help. Therefore, disability represents everything that feminists don’t want to be seen as. Makes perfect sense, right?

Wrong! It’s stupid. Disabled women are just as strong. As are women of colour, or queer women, or women from low economic backgrounds. We are as much women as they are.

It still makes people nervous

I guess this kind of carries over from ableism, but disability still makes people extremely uncomfortable. In fact, even mentioning that you’re studying disability will make people uncomfortable.

I knew it still made people nervous because I see it happen all the time. I guess I thought we’d reach the point where people would at least be open to discussing it. On the internet? Yes…most of the time. In academia? At my University, absolutely. In ‘real’ life? Turns out that’s a no.

I get it—disability can be scary. But we are people, just like you.

Anyway, I hope you all enjoyed this post and I will see you again next week!

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2 responses to “What Studying Disability Has Taught Me About Myself + Others

  1. This has definitely made me aware of something that wasn’t on my radar. I’m glad I know about abelism and I can change any behavior of my own or that I see that is not acceptable. Thank you for sharing

  2. I understand 100% what you mean about the world being ableist. I have Autism Spectrum Disorder and the amount of times I want to slap someone for describing something they don’t like as “autistic” is ridiculous and the same goes for the whole “autistic screeching” thing. And then there’s people who look at me and say “but you don’t look autistic” or say that they “never would have guessed” because it just reinforces the stereotype that you have to be a certain kind of person to be autistic.

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