Please consider the following definition:
Ableism – Assuming everyone is able bodied, and designing the world accordingly.
There are many things that define the person I am. I’m biracial. That being said, I believe the most significant is that I was born with Cerebral Palsy (CP). People don’t always have a clear understanding of what it means to be a person with a disability. (PWD) I believe that everyone has strengths and challenges. The difference between people without disabilities (PWOD) and myself is that because of my documented disability, I have access to community resources to help support living my life to greatest potential. This concept is subject to interpretation. For instance, one morning while in a church, I was cornered by a guy in the restroom. He looked at me with concern and asked if he could pray for me. It was an odd request, but I wasn’t one to turn down prayer. He placed his hand on my left arm and started praying for the healing of my arm and then the rest of my body. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciated the sentiment, but I couldn’t help thinking this was the weirdest thing in the world.
I can’t lie and say that it never bothers me not to be able to do things in the same way as my non-disabled friends (it would be much easier to change my bed sheets, for example). However, I have pretty much accepted the way that things are.
Because of being biracial, Racism has been a subject that people have asked me about off and on throughout my 37 years of life. Notably, to the best of my recollection, I have not been discriminated against because of my race. Then again, it’s hard to know if it never truly happened when I was young, or if my parents were successful at sheltering my siblings and me from it. This is of great importance to me because my parents were very intentional with making sure race was to a certain extent a non-issue. All three of us siblings are of biracial decent. My parents are both of European/white decent. Yes, for those who haven’t put the puzzle together, my siblings and I are adopted. The similarities between Racism and Ableism are palatable. For the purpose of this, I’m going to maintain my focus on Ableism.
Make no mistake, I have for many years and continue every day of my life, to be discriminated against because of misconceptions with regards to my abilities. It is something that I deal with at least a couple times a month. I tell people who ask that most of the time my CP is not the barrier: it’s the attitudes that people have surrounding my disability.
I am writing this not because I want sympathy–though I admit it is much harder to change my bed sheets than most– but rather as a short commentary on social change: yes, we have made progress on educating the public of what disability is, and more importantly, what it is not. However, we still have a long ways to go before people with disabilities are seen in the same light as their non-disabled counterparts. For this reason, I continue to advocate for the rights of persons with disabilities and I invite you to do the same.
Before closing, I want to give you another example of assumptions people make with regards to people with disabilities. In this example, I want to illustrate how education can facilitate opportunities for PWD.
I was on my way home and there was a mom and her 22 month daughter sitting across from me. I listened to her tell the bus driver about how she and her partner recently learned that her daughter has Autism. The mom went on to explain that when her friends found out about the diagnosis, their initial reaction was one of sympathy, but that in her mind it wasn’t something to be sorry about; it was good to have a reason for her child’s level of performance and development. Being a person with a disability, and being well-educated, has helped to raise awareness for the inclusion and acceptance of people with disabilities within our communities.
In closing, I want to encourage you to come along side myself and the CPC to focus on all peoples strengths instead of their challenges. It’s only through working together we can assure the end of Ableism and inclusion for all.