This post is part of the Blogging Against Disablism Day 2013 in the category “Definition and Analysis of Disablism/ Ableism”. To participate and/or have a look at some of the other posts, check out the main page here, on Diary of a Goldfish.
I find the whole topic of discrimination to be difficult, because of the inherent confusion involved in any word with multiple meanings. Discrimination can be, and often is, good. Discrimination about disabled people can be highly necessary. For example: when I was in a wheelchair, my husband would help me to get down or up stairs, but I never found him helping his friends with stairs. That’s discriminating (2). And it was a good thing.
Of course, when we talk about discrimination we are generally talking about discriminating (1), being unjust or prejudicial about someone. There’s a lot of discrimination against people with disabilities- outright, hurtful, deliberate discrimination- and that’s bad. It’s awful. It needs to be stopped, and fought against. Changing that requires changing peoples attitudes entirely, it requires convincing those who see the disabled as less, in equality, and raising up new generations that value people for being people, not for being white, male, cis-gendered, fully-able, healthy people**.
A lot more “discrimination” comes accidentally though, because it can be hard for the differently-abled* to see the line. This is the point at which I find it difficult and confusing; the point at which I’m not sure if I’m being discriminatory, or if I’ll be seen as such even if I’m not; the point at which good discrimination can be taken as bad discrimination. This is where I wish I could read minds so I knew what behaviour would hurt people and what wouldn’t.
When we offer to help our grandparents carry their shopping, do they feel loved or discriminated against?
When we speak slowly and clearly to someone who has trouble understanding speech, do they feel loved or discriminated against?
The point is, that people with disabilities often do need to be treated differently. The disability needs to be accounted for. But often, the extent is misinterpreted. When we end up patronising someone who has one leg, we have moved beyond good discrimination to hurtful, bad discrimination.
I think the only way out of this is understanding each other better. Open communication to discover what help (if any) is needed, and what help is just patronising. But I know that that’s not easy, or maybe even viable. Everyone is different, even the same illnesses and injuries come with different experiences, and that’s a lot of communicating and understanding to do. I don’t think we can ever be perfect, but I think we can be better.
There’s also the problem of trying to gain understanding being perceived as discrimination. We like to pretend that the person on crutches isn’t really on crutches, as though they might be offended if we realise they are on crutches. Well, what if they are offended? That’s hardly the solution we’re looking for. But I don’t see any other way around it, than understanding being the best solution we have. Communicate… carefully? Hm. It’s too difficult a subject to have straightforward answers in 500 words anyway, what did you expect?
So, what are peoples thoughts on disability discrimination, and how to combat the negatives? What experiences have people had?
*I say differently-abled not because I have suddenly embraced PC, but because it is just as possible for someone with one disability to be discriminating against someone with a different disability, as someone without disability to be doing the discriminating.
**Our culture has far more issues than just prejudice based on ability.