An interesting topic that I came across when writing my diary of systemic injustices was the topic of Ableism. Ableism is probably a very foreign word to most people, but that doesn’t negate its importance. Ableism is the discrimination against individuals with disabilities (physical, intellectual, and psychiatric) based on the belief that those with typical abilities are superior. The situation that I will be referring to throughout this piece involves Isabella, a college student who is legally blind, and her service dog, O’hara. Isabella attends Curry College in Massachusetts. She recently filed a lawsuit against the college for several different situations surrounding discrimination against her due to her disability. Some of those instances include not accommodating her with proper notes or assignments during classes (because of her visual impairment she needs notes/assignments printed in large text), not allowing her service dog to accompany her to certain classes or labs despite outfitting her with proper protection, not enforcing handicap parking violations, and not fixing damaged, unsafe sidewalks.
Now most people would probably think that those are all minor things that don’t really matter, and that is ableism to the T. For someone with a disability all of those things really matter. They can make your life extremely difficult – as if it isn’t already difficult enough, and I’m about to tell you why. First of all, individuals with visual impairments need thing in larger print because they cannot see. It puts Isabella at an extreme disadvantage if she cannot see her notes or assignments. It would take her longer to complete because she has to focus all of her time and energy on trying to figure out what the text says. Sure, she could make the text larger on her own, but it would probably take her more time to do that than it would the professor. She didn’t ask to be blind, but the professor signed up for their job, and in doing so they should take on the full responsibility of being a professor, which includes accommodating those that need it. Second of all, the college would not allow Isabella’s service dog, O’hara, to accompany her to labs. This is huge because O’hara is literally Isabella’s eyes. She keeps Isabella safe, which is extremely important in a lab setting. Sure, there are potential dangers associated with having a dog in the lab, however it’s just as dangerous to have Isabella in lab without her dog. Also, Isabella was taking the proper precautions to keep O’hara safe, including outfitting her in boots, a coat, and goggles. Third of all, Isabella noticed on several occasions that the college did not enforce handicapped parking violations. While this doesn’t apply to Isabella because she cannot drive, it is still a major way that we see ableism in action. Handicapped parking is there for a reason. Those without disabilities that choose to park in those spots are potentially putting many people at a disadvantage, and they are only thinking about themselves. The fact that the college was not ticketing those that broke the rule is only enabling them to do it again, and that is unacceptable. The last thing that Isabella brought up in her lawsuit was the damaged sidewalks on her college’s campus. This not only poses a risk for Isabella, who is visually impaired, but it also poses a risk to people in wheelchairs, or other mobility issues. If a sidewalk is heavily damaged with cracks and potholes, it becomes unsafe for people with disabilities to cross. As an alternative, many times they are forced to walk on the street which comes with many risks.
With all of this being said, it begs the question – are the situations being brought up in Isabella’s lawsuit considered ableism? I definitely think so. There would be extra work involved to fix many of the issues, however I feel like it’s justified. By not taking the time to make these small adjustments, you are implying that your life and time matters more that the person with a disability. It insinuates that they are an inconvenience, and no one deserves to feel that way.
I think that ableism manifests itself due to a laziness and a lack of understanding. Very few people actually have experience interacting with individuals with disabilities, therefore they don’t understand the extent of the struggles that they go through on a day to day basis. Living as a disabled person in a world that is made for an able-bodied person is hard. They overcome so many obstacles every day the least we, as able-bodied people, could do is accommodate them. An attitude of ableism also comes from laziness. “It’s too hard to make accommodations”, “I don’t have time to do it”, “they’re the one with a disability, so they should make the changes themselves”. It’s also the reason that people without handicapped tags park in handicapped spots when they are “just running in really quick”. People with disabilities are far from lazy. They have to work their butts off to overcome their physical limitations while navigating a world that wasn’t designed for them. If we put in half of the effort that they do, to accommodate them properly, then we wouldn’t have any issues.
So, how can you create a more inclusive environment for individuals with disabilities? Park farther away at a grocery store, and don’t use the handicapped restroom stall unless you are handicapped. When you hire a new employee with a disability ask them what you can do to accommodate them. Implement disability trainings as part of your employee curriculum. As a teacher, listen to your student with a disability’s requests. Be welcoming of service dogs and don’t distract them while they are working. As a government employee, fix the sidewalks in your town and make street crossings more disability friendly. Talk to your friends and family about ableism. Do your part, speak out, and make the World more inclusive for everyone.