Let's Make the Word Ableism KNOWN.
As it stands now, it is not. Not in the ways that everyone knows the words racist and sexist. When you utter either of these aloud, the offending party instantly recognizes the word enough to respond with the shrill cry of ‘I’m not whateverist!! that’s not me!!” that is so typical of those who perpetrate. I called someone ableist this week. He did not get offended and he did not protest. He did not ask me what I meant. He just continued to force decisions onto my disabled body without my consent.
I said to him in a very clear voice “this is ableist. You think you have the right to decide for me because you are able bodied and I am not.” He stared blankly. The word ableist invoked no reaction whatsoever. No defensiveness. No feigned shock. No bold look of crass indifference. He has probably never heard it spoken aloud.
When people think ‘discrimination against people with disabilities’ they think about school children calling disabled people retards. Or they think maybe a disabled person, somewhere, at some time, didn’t get a job they applied for and just went on to choose a different one or got on government benefits.
I am 40 years old and I am just now at the beginning of my journey to process the disassociation and constant terror that I have experienced every single day, since I was 11, at the hands of abliest society. As a disabled person, I have been every bit as criminalized as POnoticableC. I have been forcibly removed from countless venues. It is constantly assumed that I am on drugs. I have had the cops called on me more times than I can count for ‘appearing out of place’ and for ‘refusing to get up’. I catch my white liberal ableist friends openly congratulating themselves for being involved with me – making me a disadvantaged minority character in a story that revolves around them. Able bodied people feel they have the right to detain me, against my will, at any time. I have been unlawfully detained by ‘well meaning’ ableds who used the guise of ‘concern’ to exert control over a total stranger. I live in constant terror of loosing my life, my freedom, my home, my car. As disability is vastly misunderstood and people attempt to prey on me, abuse me, and own me.
Ableism doesn’t just mean insulting words or being passed over for a job promotion sometimes. It means that every single time I leave my house, I am taking the risk that I will loose control over my body and my life. I am sure that ableism deniers would tell me to chill because ”we’re all taking that risk. Hey, I could be in a car accident tomorrow and loose control over my body and my life”.
Oh, the chronic and neverending dismissal and rationalization by mostly white ableds. Yes, anyone could loose control over their body and their life at any moment. The difference between you and me is that your chances are low enough that you can enjoy walking around lulled into a false sense of security, happily living your life, up until the very moment that it actually happens to you. Whereas I have already lived it so many times that I know from experience that the very next incident is but one breath away.
I won’t consider the word ableism to really be known and understood until the average person recoils at the sound of it, scared and ashamed at the thought of it being used to describe them. Sexism and racism continue to be an every day reality although the words are known and understood. But ableism is so SO far behind the game it’s not even funny.
In the coming years, as my body permits, I pledge to do what I can to make the word ‘ableism’ known.