I often find myself questioning our society’s view on disability. I believe that our world is inheritably ableist. Now I know that is a bold statement, but hear me out. Disabled has always been a negative word. That alone shows that people automatically think negatively when they think about disability. There are many ways people are ableist without even trying. Just take a look at schools and even in the way people treat the chronic/invisible illness community.
Let’s start with schools. Schools are not made for people with disabilities. Most schools do the bare minimum when it comes to accessibility. Let’s take my school for example. We have four levels, all of which require many stairs to get to. We do have an elevator, but in my experience, you can only get an elevator pass if you are visibly disabled. Let’s say you were able to get that elevator pass, well you are now going to be late for every class because the school does not put any money into fixing this ancient elevator. Generally speaking, schools are not handicap accessible. The ramps at my school are only convenient if you are trying to get into the building, otherwise, there are the stairs. These are just examples of how physical disabilities are affected, but the school system also has a very heavy impact on neurodivergent people.
According to the Oxford Dictionary, the term “neurodivergent” refers to someone with “differing mental or neurological function from what is considered typical or normal (frequently used concerning autistic spectrum disorders); not neurotypical” (Oxford Dict.). This term is used to describe differences in mental functions such as sociability, learning, mood, and attention. One of the largest examples of this ableism in schools is the class style. Students are forced to sit still in their seats for hours on end. For someone with neurodiversity, this is extremely challenging. Students are pushed for moving in their seats or drawing on their notes because it helps them focus. Points are marked off students’ grades when they don’t participate in class discussions, but to some people, public speaking is nearly impossible. These are just a few examples of a large amount of ableism in our schools.
What comes to mind when you hear the word “disabled”? Do you see wheelchairs and medical equipment? “Historically, people with chronic illnesses and disabilities are perceived through a medical lens as people that need to be “fixed”. Viewing people with disabilities and chronic illnesses from this perspective creates barriers to their active participation in society”(Mary Boujaoude Thesis, 1). Unlike having an observable condition, those with invisible illnesses often face a lack of social awareness and additional stigma. As a result, these individuals often face more skepticism and are accused of being lazy or moody. This lack of awareness is a large form of ableism even if it is not intentional. Imagine if you had food poisoning. You then go up to someone and say “I’m sick I can’t do this today”. That person responds “no you arent stop being lazy”. Unfortunately, that is how a large number of people react to the chronic illness community. This problem can ultimately be solved, but it takes individual motives. The chronic illness community can explain to you their illness until their mouth falls off, but if you don’t believe them and listen to them, then we can never fix this problem. I have experienced this with many teachers, coaches, and even classmates during my high school career. If they can’t see the challenge it’s not real. Just because I was up and running on a good day does not mean that I am faking my low days.
These are just some of the examples of how our world is inheritably ableist. These problems can be addressed and I would like to think that one day these issues could be decreased or even solved.