Don’t Let the Ableists Wear You Down

Cover of Planet of the Blind....man and dog....

At its core “ableism” is discrimination or prejudice against the disabled. It’s steeped in the prevailing assumption that non-disabled bodies are inherently superior. I’ve lived with the “A Word” all my days and in my mid-sixties I see how I’ve been worn down by it. (Everything wears us down but ableism is so unrelenting and pervasive it’s like gravity.)

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As Ibram X. Kendri puts it: “Americans have long been trained to see the deficiencies of people rather than policy. It’s a pretty easy mistake to make: People are in our faces. Policies are distant. We are particularly poor at seeing the policies lurking behind the struggles of people.”

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I once told a group of disability studies professors that they weren’t sufficiently devoted to accessibility for the blind. Just about all of the 60 people in attendance had eyesight.

This view was not greeted with enthusiasm. Even within the disability community you’ll find closed gates.

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All hail the eyes. If the blind can’t fully participate that’s “on them” for at least we allowed them in the room.

I think the blind aren’t fully welcome in the academy. Let me add, if you squawk about it you’ll be judged and not kindly. I’ve been told if my behavior was better I might get the access I need. Try that on, little fella!

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Which brings me back to ableism which demotes you to little fella, little lady, kiddo, “special” and always gets away with it.

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Recite to yourself a psalm or sonnet. Name all the players on the 1969 New York Mets. Just don’t do what I’ve done when my spirit has failed—don’t tell the poor sods what cattle they are—and trust me, as a crippled activist you’ll face colluders, quislings, prevaricators, and worse, and I’m merely saying, don’t let your outrage with the boring quotidian be your first move. I tell you I’ve made that mistake. As a blind child I was told I didn’t belong so often, so routinely, by so many boors that my half-sainted skin is pocked with the scars of custom and you better believe this is why I think highly of myself, for as of today I’ve never hit anyone, never kicked a dog, though I’ve slobbered and spit when confronted by meagre conventions and the unwritten rules of ableism. Yes! Think highly of yourself! Try like hell not to hate the unpleasant and despicable apparatchiks. When all else fails, tell them off. But don’t do it just because you’re stupefied.

Here concludes the sermon. Except for this. Disabled lives are in peril all over the world. Anger beats boredom but it seldom promotes effective change. Wits do. Crawling up the Capitol’s steps will do it. Standing up for those who don’t have voices or opportunities will always do it. But never contempt. Please don’t be like me when I’m weak and in a state of high offense. And then, stay unintimidated.

Author: skuusisto

Poet, Essayist, Blogger, Journalist, Memoirist, Disability Rights Advocate, Public Speaker, Professor, Syracuse University

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