Sunday, March 9, 2014
Ableism and Disability Erasure in the Social Justice Community
I tried to argue that not talking about disability issues didn't inherently make them prejudiced although some of them very well may be, but I totally stuck my foot in my mouth. Thats what I get for arguing with people on the internet on an insomnia bender.
Now, the salient point of that story is erasure and how all of us able-bodied people subtly contribute to it. When was the last time you thought about the problems of disabled people? Were you aware that the phrase 'person with a disability' can be considered offensive? Do you ever notice the lack of accessibility in your local community? Do the words "inspirational porn" mean anything to you?
When you think about it, the lack of visibility for the disability rights movement is shockingly insidious. Whenever we do hear about disability it's almost always in the context of "aren't they so brave for continuing to exist?" or we use disabilities as a justification for abortion, like disabled kids have less of a right to life than able ones. I'm all for pro-choice, but I don't think we should use the condition of the fetus in question as a reason to abort it. There are much more valid points to be made in favor of abortion, and all of those are less ableist.
We all see the disabled parking spaces, the closed captioning on television, hearing aids and guide dogs and think that we're done. That we've done everything possible to grant accessibility and equal rights to disabled people. That ableism doesn't exist.
The only reason why we think ableism doesn't exist is because we never hear about disability rights issues. Because the world has told us that disability is a bad thing, and we continue to live in ignorance. We don't go looking for the disability rights movement because no one has told us that it exists or what they're fighting for. Mia Mingus, a community organizer and transformative justice activist, writes on Resist that in all her time doing social justice work "disability is something that most people know very little about - and that includes seasoned, fierce, and well-respected community organizers and activists." Mingus goes on to say that "For many people, even just the idea that we can understand disability as “not wrong” is a huge shift in thinking."
I don't think the exclusion of disability rights on Social Justice blogs and in the media is an act of prejudice, but rather one of institutionalized ignorance. A symptom of systematic prejudice. It isn't an individual act of hate. Ablism is a hard thing to recognize and correct because we live in an incredibly ableist society that refuses to recognize ableism. But we have to see that in ourselves and start including everyone when we talk about equality. Especially those of us who blog about social justice issues, because if we don't, we're presenting a distorted message and telling all of the disabled persons of the world that they don't matter.
Mingus's blog can be found here. The Center for Disability Rights has a website and blog you should also check out. The BBC runs a pretty good blog as well. Plus some great tumblrs.