discrimination in favor of able-bodied people.
Ableism is defined as discrimination and/or social prejudice against people with disabilities or people who are perceived to be disabled. Ableism labels people who are defined by their disabilities, disease, or condition as inferior to non-disabled or healthy people.
One out of five people will become disabled in their lives, and yet in America, we live in a culture that still exhibits discriminatory beliefs and behaviors toward people who are disabled. In varying degrees, ableism has seeped into many of our institutions, from religious organizations (did you know churches and schools on church property are exempt from abiding ADA guidelines?) to college campuses, workplaces, and hospitals - leading to systemic consequences of exclusivity and oppression.
This blog will address the history of ableism and hopefully, by talking about the past, shine a light on how we can do better to never again treat those who identify as disabled as less valuable, or even expendable in our world.
“When we put barriers on access, whether intentionally or unintentionally, that’s ableism. When we assume that the experience of disability is somehow less than and people would obviously prefer to not be disabled anymore, that’s a form of ableism.” - Stephanie Tait, Author and Disability Advocate
History of Ableism:
The idea that those who are disabled are “less than” is far from a novel concept. However, this is a blog, not an encyclopedia Britannica, so for the sake of being concise - I will focus primarily on the modern history of ableism. For starters, let’s go back to 1939, where in Nazi Germany Hitler signed the secret euthanasia program decree (know as Aktion T4) which authorized the killing of selected patients diagnosed with chronic neurological and psychiatric disorders. Roughly 200,000 disabled people were put to death before it was
halted at the end of Hitler's reign in 1945. England followed suit with its unsavory views on mental illness and low regard for women (see picture). Though less drastic (but equally enraging), other countries held and still hold similar values to disabled individuals, including Canada, where involuntary sterilization to stop people with disabilities from having offspring STILL occurs, as well as the inability to access important facilities, barriers to employment opportunities, and institutionalization of people with disabilities in substandard conditions.
If you think “America the Beautiful” has been any better, then it's time to set down those red, white, and blue colored glasses. Before the 1960’s ableism was often codified in law. In many cities, so-called "ugly laws" (laws targeted at the poor or disabled) barred people from appearing in public if they had diseases or disfigurements that were considered unsightly.
"Any person, who is diseased, maimed, mutilated or deformed in any way, so as to be an unsightly or disgusting object, to expose himself or herself to public view is subject to arrest.”
-Law of 1867, San Francisco
Are you completely gobsmacked? I know I am. However, things seemed to take a turn for the better, when in the 1960s, following the civil rights movement in America, the disabled rights movement began. The intention was for once and for all to give individuals with disabilities equal rights. What followed was the establishment of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (enacted into law certain civil penalties for failing to make public places comply with access codes known as the ADA Access Guidelines (ADAAG),
The Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act (promoted the fundamental right to vote by improving access for elderly individuals and people with disabilities to registration facilities and polling places), The federal Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 (prohibits housing discrimination on the basis of mental or physical disability), The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) (The act gave individuals with disabilities civil rights protections and, The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (ensures students with a disability are provided with Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) that is tailored to their individual needs).
Even with these legislative improvements, the stereotypes which have been historically associated with specific impairments or chronic health conditions, have served as justification for continual practices of discrimination and oppression. Micro aggressions toward disabled individuals are the most common offenses that sprinkle todays society. Take a look at a few examples of contemporary ableism below.
Examples of Ableism:
Assuming Someone is “waiting to be healed.” Sadly, as a woman of faith, this is somewhere I feel the church needs to do better. For instance, there is a false pretense that disabled people want to be cured, because they are somehow being punished with their ailment because of unresolved sin, the Fall, or whatever theological debate the particular denomination makes. For example, when one is read the story about Jesus healing the blind man, there is a manipulation of interpretation that leads one to believe that Jesus restored the man because he was “broken” or “less than” as a blind man. In my opinion (and many well educated biblical interpreter's as well) that is not accurate. Jesus healed the blind man to bring him back to community…back to belonging. Because society said he was unworthy of love due to his disability. Jesus was not turned off by him, the world was. The world discarded him, Jesus welcomed him to the table. Furthermore, Concluding a person with a disability/chronic health condition is doing something wrong if they haven’t recovered is shameful and damaging. Recovery isn’t an option for most disabled people.
Minimizing another’s struggle for your comfort. We know it is hard when someone has a disability / chronic illness. But imagine how much harder it is for the person living with it. Telling someone they talk too much about their challenges/diagnosis can fall into the ableism category as well.
Comparing chronic/long-term disabilities/conditions to temporary/short-term injuries or illnesses. Having a kidney stone or a yearly mammogram is not the same as the physical and emotional challenges of facing a potentially lifelong disability or incurable health condition. Think about how your words can push a disabled person further into the margins by minimizing their experience.
Presuming a person is faking because their disability is not “visible” to you. Lupus is among many other chronic, incurable illnesses that is mostly invisible on the outside. Saying someone is “fine” or “faking” because you cannot see what is wrong with them is hurtful. The fact that you cannot see the disability does not make it any less debilitating.
Inferring disabled people can’t speak for themselves. This one really gets me. I cannot stand when people speak for me or make assumptions about what I'm feeling. People with physical disabilities should receive the same respect and consideration that able-bodied people receive, this includes every opportunity for their voice to be heard and experience validated.
Having negative opinions of disabled individuals, such as they are taking advantage of the system, are lazy, or leeches. A value of a person does not lie in their productivity or anything they have done or ever will do. People are valuable simply because they exist. End of story.
Saying it is "not worth the budget" because there are no disabled people who attend said school, or church, or fill in the blank... so it would be frivolous to put in that ramp or elevator or sensory room. Classic ableism. I could go on forever about this, but as I mentioned this is but a mere blog. So I will end with that one.
If you live with a chronic illness or disability or you are the loved one of someone who identifies as disabled, I hope you have found this blog as a good starting point to recognize the dangers that ableism can have on your relationships. To be honest, I have found this blog helpful to process my own unhealthy ablest thoughts that I have put on myself over the last 30 years of living with systemic lupus, and I hope that even if you take one thing away from this blog that it was well worth the read.
Kelli (Casas) Roseta
**All resources provided by this blog are for informational purposes only, not to replace the advice of a medical professional. Kelli encourages you to always contact your medical provider with any specific questions or concerns regarding your illness. All intellectual property and content on this site and in this blog is owned by morethanlupus.com. This includes materials protected by copyright, trademark, or patent laws. Copyright, More Than Lupus 2021.