The word “ableism” is used an awful lot these days, but do you know what it actually means? An “ableist” is someone who holds discriminatory views about people with both physical or learning disabilities, often of the opinion that they need to be “fixed”.
But where did ableism come from? Where did it start? I’m not talking about the use of the word, I’m talking about the act of discriminating against disabled people. The answer lies thousands of years before the common era. Examples of ableism were more extreme and obvious back then. Many were sentenced to death or outcast.
But the world developed and technology and medicine came to the forefront of our society. It became clear that some differences between people were the result of genetic differences or mutations. And so the quest to “cure” these mutations began. Why? Because anything that was different from the majority of society was considered incorrect. Disabled people were seen as the problem and that they needed to adapt to fit the world as it is, not the other way round.
Moving on hundreds of years and today we know these differences to not just be beautiful, but also a means of survival. Scientific studies have been conducted looking at whether organisms with no mutations survive better than those with mutations. It was common belief for many years that this would be the case. But guess what? We were wrong. A study conducted at universities in the uk showed that organisms with no mutations who had access to food survived no better than those who were able to adapt to mutations. (I won’t go into it but click here to read if you’re interested https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110327191044.htm).
Essentially, we are evolving and these differences between us all should no longer be considered weaknesses. So why does ableism still exist?
Because a) there are still too many people who are consciously ableist, and b) we are yet to convince the majority of people in this world who are subconsciously ableist that ableism exists.
What do I mean by conscious and subconscious ableism? If you are consciously ableist you are actively campaigning for the world to remove those with differences from the majority of society. To those who consciously believe and outright say that disabled people should be outcast and not play a part in this world, you are essentially still living in the dark ages. Literally. You haven’t been able to see the incredible contribution disabled people make to society. They don’t need to be cured and have every right to live a fulfilling life. You may think that they can’t survive and are a drain on society, but science has proved you wrong. See above.
If you are subconsciously ableist, it means you don’t actively take into account the needs of anyone who functions differently from yourself.
To those who are subconsciously ableist, I hope this blog makes you think. Makes you actively evaluate your choices. I don’t believe we can change people who have consciously made the decision to be ableist, but what we can do is help those who don’t even realise they are doing it, those who are unaffected by disability and flow with the tide of the majority of our society. It’s you we want to talk to, you we want to make think. You are so privileged and you don’t even know it. I never knew it before kiddo came along, I will admit that. If you’re privileged enough to live in a world where everything is set up for you to access it independently, then show your appreciation by learning how to widen that privilege to others.
And finally, to those who don’t see the differences and wonder why the world has to divide us so. You are already there. You are living in the world we should all be living. It makes you angry to see that ableism exists, and you challenge it every day. People need to be challenged, but in a way that makes them think. Not in a way that evokes fear and hatred, that will only delay the process.
Everyone deserves an accessible world and it’s only when we are able to provide an inclusive world that parents won’t be accused of being ableist when they feel sad at their child’s diagnosis. They’re not wanting to change their child, they are scared for what society will prevent them from doing. Because in an inherently ableist world dating back thousands and thousands of years, the odds are stacked against them. Time to change that I think.
Thanks for reading,