This post is part of the Blogging Against Disablism Day
Isms and ists come from igns and ints.
Disablism, or antidisablism, or however you happen to label that particular ism and ists, is the result of the same things as all the other ists and isms – ignorance and intention.
Ignorance is the easy one: people who do not have a disability do not understand that disability.
Ignorance can lead to many things from misunderstandings to hatred. Misunderstandings can be mild or tragic, comical or irritating, but they tend to add up over time and create resentment, so it’s good to avoid them when possible.
Hatred happens when the ignorance is so great it creates fear. Fear is a tough thing to overcome, especially since what we fear most is so often what we don’t understand, and ignorance is a fairly natural condition for humans. Face facts – at any given time, we are ignorant of a lot more than we know.
People who believe they have the answers for everything are deluded – that’s why they don’t “know” they know all the answers. They can only believe. And since we don’t know more than we know, those who believe they know all are likely believing in things that aren’t true… so ignorance leads to more ignorance.
But we’re not hare to have a debate about atheism – we’re here to talk about disability. And a lot of disablism is a result of ignorance, and ignorance is the easy cause of disablism because it’s the one with the clearest cure.
If the basis is ignorance, the cure is education.
Who does that education and how it is done (and who pays for it, because, let’s face it, everything costs) is a matter for much debate. But if people who do not have a particular disability learn more about that disability, they’ll be less ignorant of it, less likely to fear it and hate those who do have it.
Education is always incomplete, always ongoing and always a struggle. We humans hate to admit what we don’t know.
So to eliminate disablism, every single person would have to commit to learning all they could about all disability at all times for ever and ever. It seems like a ridiculous solution, but since it’s impossible for anyone to know absolutely everything, a simple commitment to be open-minded would suffice.
There will always be misunderstandings. There will always be some way in which accommodating one person will make things more difficult for another. There will always be little things that everyone could not possibly know. But if everyone, those with and without disabilities, those who know and don’t know something about disabilities, agree to be open to learning more, and to be respectful of others, and to be willing to consider that what they believe they know may not be true in all cases, then we would have a cooperative environment.
Intentions are more convoluted.
Everyone has intention, to some degree. We humans don’t do many things randomly. We usually have a purpose, even if that purpose is frivolous. We often judge actions based on intention. If you mean to do something, and that thing has negative consequences, you will be judged more severely than if you did it by accident. We tend to value what we mean to say more than how it came out, or we judge others on what we believe they meant to say. (Language is tricksy that way.)
Intention intersects with disability in mind-bogglingly many ways.
First, paradoxically, we must consider the unintended. Disabilities can have unintended consequences, and this doesn’t sit well with out usual (constructed) intended reality. Humans don’t like dealing with the unintended.
Say I meant to do something – I promise I will do it, I say I’ll get done by this time or be there at that time, and then I don’t. I just… don’t. I couldn’t, because of some unforeseen result of disability. (I was supposed to help someone move last night, but I couldn’t, because I couldn’t even drive my truck, let alone lift anything. It wasn’t intended. It wasn’t planned. I had meant to help, but I couldn’t because… shit happens. I tried, but I couldn’t.)
Now, that could lead to many things. Obviously, someone is going to be disappointed. Me, for one. I hate it when I can’t do things I intended to do. The person I was supposed to help feels let down. But it wasn’t intentional, and I hope they understand, and even if they do I still let them down, so it can’t be helped if there are bad feelings.
BUT, if someone were to take that unintentional let down and extrapolate it into “she never does what she says she’s going to do”, it would be unfair.
AND, if someone were to take that even further and say, “everyone with a disability is unreliable”, which could lead to “people with disabilities are unreliable and hence do not deserve employment, then you would have disablism.
(You could argue that the first assumption is also disablist, because it involves blaming the individual for something they could not control, but I don’t really want to deal with particulars – I want to look at bigger pictures.)
Some people would argue that since the definition of a disability is a condition that prevents someone from participating fully in yadda yadda yadda, people with disabilites are by definition not able to participate fully, so saying people with disabilities shouldn’t work is simply a fact. Those people are ignorant.
(Here I could go into a big diatribe about living in a society where we are defined by our very narrow definitions of productivity, but let’s save that for another time.)
Back to intention – shit happens and we should all be flexible. Fine and dandy, but what about disabilities that are inextricably linked to intention and the lack thereof– those are some of the least understood – spasticity and Tourette’s, for example. The sheer unintentionality of action seems to whip ignorant, nondisabled people into a frenzy of mockery and fear and hatred. It scares humans that things just happen, for no reason.
Once again, humans do not like dealing with the unintended.
In this area of disablism, education can help to some degree. If those without the disabilities are somewhat prepared – if they can wrap their heads around the idea that all actions are not intended, that all utterances are not 100% controllable and all muscles not entirely under the will of the individual, then they’ll merely be surprised instead of shocked, and more accepting.
To anyone who is unwilling to accept that fact at shit happens, all I can say is this: suck it up. Shit happens.
But then there is intention – there are actions, there are words, there are situations, which are intended to cause harm. Deliberate and precise. Not the result of ignorance and fear, but the result of privilege.
This is the most difficult part of disablism, of any ism, because there is no clear cure.
There are people who do not want to share their world with others. There are people who have power, who enjoy resources and wealth and privilege and they exclude others from enjoying them. Because they don’t want to share. Because they want it all for themselves. Because they CAN.
They do not want to share their spaces with people who cannot access them, so they make their spaces inaccessible. They make their spaces inaccessible in as many ways as they can. They make their spaces inaccessible in physical and social ways. They exclude on the basis of disability, or skin colour, of ethnicity, of gender, of social stature, of financial status. They exclude on they basis of anything that will exclude, so that they can have it all for themselves.
When people who are excluded on the basis of one criteria get a little piece of the pie, they may exclude others on an entirely different basis, because their piece is small – too small to share.
They don’t want to let too many people have access to their job – they believe it’s better to exclude on the basis of disability/gender/race/any-other-factor-they-can-get-away-with than face more competition. (This can often be done with regulations or requirements that are impossible for the excluded class to meet.)
They have a nice social circle and they don’t want to have to include people who are not like them, so they exclude on the basis of family background, ethnicity, disability etc. (Often accomplished by narrowing the scope of the social circle so much that only those of with the accepted features will even be interested in taking part.)
We humans exclude all the time. It’s part of our nature, just like ignorance. It’s WHY we exclude that matters, because, again, intent matters.
Sometimes we exclude unintentionally. That ignorance can be solved by education.
Sometimes we exclude intentionally. That is where intention becomes an ism.
Mindfulness, then, is the key to behaving in a more inclusive manner: being mindful of others – and of those things we may be ignorant of – and being mindful of what our true intentions are when we exclude and when we include.
Maybe it really does all come down to ignorance, in which case there is a cure for the intentions. If we all consider our ignorance and our intentions, then maybe disablism, as well as other isms and ists will be reduced.