There exists a term called *Ableism defined by the Urban Dictionary* thus: Ableism is the discrimination or prejudice against people who have disabilities. Ableism can take the form of ideas and assumptions, stereotypes, attitudes and practices, physical barriers in the environment, or larger scale oppression. It is oftentimes unintentional and most people are completely unaware of the impact of their words or actions.
That being said, Most of us “Crips” (slang* for disAbled folk solely used amongst our peers) Experience this phenomenon on a regular basis. It affects us in any number of ways. I choose to make Ableist moments teachable moments when and if I have the chance to do so. Hopefully my re-education will have some lasting impact upon the ignorant.
Case in point, just today I had someone ask me where my “friend” was. Let’s frame this a bit better for illustration’s sake. Admittedly, I am not a Gold Star* Crip. I may or may not have had my disAbility since birth, but the onset struck hard and fast when I turned fifty. Sometimes I use a rollator (rolling walker) but predominantly I use a power wheelchair that I have wrestled into submission by tweaking the power, settings and programming. Indeed, I confess to being a geek*.
Alas, I digress. I was at an open air artisans market that I had gone to only once before today and a woman I certainly never met previously came bounding up to my right side and grabbed my elbow hard enough to make me wince and said,”Where is your friend today? Are you out here by yourself? Can I call someone for you?” I was so momentarily stunned that I let go of my rollator and almost fell flat. I had no idea who this person was, why she had grabbed me, and the reason for the volume of her voice at that moment. It was like my very own personal Tsunami. She went on to say”Where’s your Friend?” Now, I happen to have a lot of friends, but I just couldn’t understand why she was repeating herself here.
I went to the market with my friends, was supposed to be meeting them later at a restaurant. I had my cell phone in my purse, and indeed, I was alone, very happily so until this stranger accosted me. “My friends are waiting for me at the restaurant, I have my cell phone, I can call them on my phone, see? This is my phone. I can text them too. Now, please let go of my arm and stop yelling at me like this.” To which she replied “Oh no! you’re not Margaret at all! I am so sorry! You see Margaret looks a little like you and she’s really deaf and has Alzheimers.” I replied, “Alright then, since I’m clearly not Margaret why did you grab me like that?” My new grabby buddy replied,”You have a purple walker thingy and you walk funny…uh, I don’t mean funny ha-ha, but off balance and from the back I thought…” I looked at her and replied, “So, we look alike then?” Grabby sputtered “Um yeah you all Look alike kinda middle/older wobbly with walkers, I try to help where I can, I mean all of you handicapped people always need help, right?” I thought I was going to have an aneurysm right there on the spot.
“First, I am a fully independent adult woman who just happens to live with a disAbility that is clearly visible. Second, when you put your hands on my* body, or my appliance that constitutes assault. Thirdly, I do not knowingly have Alzheimers, but may become hard of hearing in my right ear thanks to your “intervention” thanks. I’m going to see my friends now, so good luck with finding Margaret.” I rolled away bruised but not broken hopefully some light has crept into the darkness of someone’s very small mind who thinks we* all look alike.