I recently had an unpleasant experience where a person gave me a hard time for using the accessible seat on the bus. I need to have two seats to myself due to sensory and proximity issues related to my autism. Apparently – according to this person – I didn’t ‘look disabled enough’ to use this seat. It was a nasty bit of ableism and prompted me to write this post about things that ableists say
So here goes…
“You could pass for normal”
Lots of issues here. Most Disabled people I know would find this statement extremely offensive. It basically states that there is a pinnacle of existence called ‘normal’ and those of us who don’t fit within it are broken and deficient. Disability Sio seen as a deviation form the ‘norm’ and the further from the norm you get the worse it is. This is not helpful or true. We have value just as we are.
“How long have you been wheelchair bound?
Lots of issues here too. A wheelchair means mobility. It is a positive and useful thing to have. Imagine not having one. Also ‘wheelchair bound’ ties in with some very deficits-based attitudes around disability.
“Don’t say Autistic, say person with autism”
The number of times well-meaning people have corrected my identity-first language is very large. Despite what those people think, ‘I am autistic’ is perfectly valid and many of us find it empowering. The same goes for ‘Disabled’ which many people find empowering. When it comes to identity, the way a person identifies is their identity, simple as that. People should not question others’ identity.
You don’t look autistic“
Autistic doesn’t ‘look’ like anything, Autistic people all look different. You cannot tell a person is autistic through looking at them. We are not ‘one size fits all.’
Assuming all Disabled people are asexual
This is widespread and is not OK. It infantilises us and makes us perennial children, which we are not. Many Disabled people have a healthy sex life and want a relationship. I tend to think that being in a sexual relationship is almost political for Disabled people but it really shouldn’t be. It should be a given that Disabled people can be in a relationship and / or have sex if they want to.
Assuming all Disabled people are cis gender
Once again the idea that Disabled people are all cis gender goes to infantilisation and paternalism. We are apparently not able to consider our gender identity and know our own gender identity but in fact many Disabled people – and particularly neurodivergent people – are trans and gender diverse.
“We are all on the spectrum somewhere”
An autism-specific one and a highly problematic one. People often say this with good intentions but it is really unhelpful. It is dismissive of autistic reality and experience. It is invalidating and if it were true then there would be no autism spectrum because it would just be called being human.
Shaming someone who has a disability car park sticker but is able to walk
Many people have an accessible car park sticker but do not use a wheelchair or other mobility aid. These people may have invisible disabilities but ones which are very real and mean they cannot walk across a big car park. They may be shamed by others, once again often well-meaning people. This shaming is never OK. If a person doesn’t ahem the sticker definitely call them out but if they do then they are able to use that parking space so don’t shame them.
“He must be lost” (aimed at wheelchair user in psychiatric ward)
Many people think that a person can only have one disability. I was recently in a psychiatric ward in a large university hospital. One of my fellow patients was a wheelchair user. I heard someone say about him ‘oh he must be lost’, presumably thinking a person only has a quota of one disability each!
“She’s so articulate” (after speaking with Disabled person who is still standing right next to them)
This kind of situation is infuriating. Once again it goes to infantilising and patronising Disabled people. It also relates to having a very low opinion of that Disabled person (who happens in this example to be me) and their right to be treated with respect.
“You are such an inspiration“
I think I saved the worst till last. ‘Inspiration porn’, where disabled people are viewed as being inspirational simply through doing everyday things, is rife. I had someone once tell me i was an inspiration because I take the bus to work! Inspiration porn can really irritate and upset Disabled people. I’m going to let the late, great Stella Young address that one in her excellent TED talk https://www.ted.com/talks/stella_young_i_m_not_your_inspiration_thank_you_very_much?language=en