Wake Up: Ableism

Ableism has brought out so much anger. There seems to be a lot of anger amongst disabled people. Anger is a very negative emotion that often takes what limited energy we have. Over the 28 years since my diagnosis, I have encountered a lot of angry disabled people, it is an accepted part of living with disability. I am not a naturally confrontational person and always counsel people to pick their fights, to be assertive in the face of hostility. In my own experience, I am aware of a hostile political environment, I have witnessed incredible stupidity, laziness and rudeness but put it down to poor human behaviour. I call it a ‘new’ concept, but sadly it is only new to me. I started using Twitter regularly at the end of 2018 and quickly picked up on the strength of emotion that Ableism was inflicting on other disabled people around the world. Although very familiar with discrimination, I was concerned that recognising the Ableism behind it was nothing but a vehicle for pure anger, that it would quickly undermine any progress we had made. But it is not.

‘Ableism’ is the belief that disabled people are inferior to others. Ableism can be perpetrated by attitudes or behaviour of people or the inaccessible physical environment we all live in. Ableism is a noun, something grubby, aggressive and nasty; like sexism or racism, but something that is done to exclusively to disabled people.

In the nineties, there was strong disability movement. Protesters used direct action to protest against the awful treatment they endured through the lack of rights. The Disability Discrimination Act came into force in 1995 and those legal protections were enshrined in the Equality Act 2010. We had the Medical and Social models of disability to explain that disability is imposed on us by other people and the environment we live in. We could always take a case of discrimination to court but can court judgements change hearts and minds? Yes, but too slowly. Has that made us complacent? I think so. Those pioneers are gone now, but the current generation of disabled people can understand their experiences in an ableist world and want to change our terrible people and environments once and for all.

Inspirational movements come together around energy like this and are a powerful voice for social change. To avoid becoming just one of many angry voices, the disability movement needs to focus this anger and organise to achieve social change. Something is awakening in me and I am ready to be a part of that.

Richard Brown

December 2018

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