Ableism: An Ideology of Misunderstanding Than of Discrimination

As anyone even vaguely tied to the Disabled Community, or who just has an interest, would be aware: ableism is a very real, commonly-occurring phenomenon. I just googled the definition of the word ‘Ableism’ and got a whole lot of links to dictionary definitions about how it is ‘discrimination against disabled people.’ Personally, I don’t like this definition and I have one fundamental reason: it’s too specific.

When you hear ‘discrimination’ images of demarcated seating or something similar undoubtedly appeared. While disabled people often face being discriminated against, I feel referring to Ableism as discrimination towards them is too narrow-minded. Ableism, to me, isn’t Discrimination but Misunderstanding.

I’ve often heard that Ableism can be unconscious. I agree. That said, I think that in order to truly discriminate against someone there has to be conscious of it on some level. Yes, a person’s behaviour might lead to a feeling of being discriminated against even though that wasn’t the person’s intention. Since, for me at least, discrimination has to fundamentally stem from intent one cannot have entirely positive intentions and still be seen a discriminatory. From my standpoint, then, is that discrimination can be a form of Ableism but Ableism is not a form of discrimination.

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SA’s Disability Watchdog: No Bark, No Bite. Hell, No dog.

I started working with the Altitude Group since November last year. Since then, I’ve been becoming more and more aware of the policies that South Africa has (and doesn’t have) in terms of disability. Something that just dawned on me relatively recently was that, as yet, South Africa has no ‘Disability Watchdog.’ That said, I’m no expert so I’d appreciate you correcting me if I’m wrong although, sadly, I don’t think I am.

Our ‘ADA’

Based on what I read, in short: there is no South African equivalent of the American’s with Disabilities Act who actively enforces anti-ableism campaigns. The closest SA does have, though is the Human Rights Commission – who are too overworked to have time to deal with disability accessibility issues.

When a lift broke down (as well as the backup) in a building recently, I remember an American standing behind me saying “Well, that’s illegal” The sad part is, even if it was illegal we don’t have the resources to enforce the new policy. The sad reality is that, on the whole, South Africa doesn’t have any kind of ‘Disability Watchdog’ like those in America or in the United Kingdom.

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My ‘3 Buzzwords’ on Disability Sensitisation

**To my more regular readers: I know a lot of the ideas today have been mentioned before but, I think these issues bear repeating. All the same, enjoy the reading.

For those of you familiar with South Africa, you’d know our track record with regards to disability isn’t the greatest. That said, there are organisations like the Chaeli Campaign or the Altitude Group that strive to improve the lives of disabled people.

Yesterday, I found myself being taken to a school in Cape Town through work so as to help out with an introduction to ‘Disability Sensitivity Training.’ I think it went well (even if I do say so myself). I was caught relatively off-guard when work asked me to do this so a lot of the stuff I said I had to do off-the-cuff. Looking back at the hastely-sketched argument I made, some of the points I made I feel are worth repeating: my ‘3 Buzzwords on Disability in Society’ if you will.

1. Subjectivity

While the nature of a person’s disability is more-or-less unique, one should be aware of the basic characteristics (for want of a better word) of the common disabilities at the very least. That said, the way disability affects a person is largely subjective. Since a person’s life is highly subjective, we should not presume that all disabled people’s needs are identical. No two people are exactly alike, why should a disability remove our individuality?

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Does Being in a Wheelchair Deserve Pity?

With news of Jerry Lewis’s death flying around on Social Media, I became aware of his statement, “[If] you don’t want to be pitied as a cripple in a wheelchair, stay in ya home” through a tweet from Emma Ladau. Regardless of context, this kind of thinking makes me sadder than I can express.

I was born with a physical disability and have spent several years of my life in a wheelchair. Does that make me deserving of pity? Yes, disability has been a part of my life and will be forever. There’s nothing I can do to change that. While disability is part of my identity, it is not the only thing that makes me who I am.

When I think of what defines me, the first things that pop into my head is that I value friends and family above everything, I’m a Literature fan, and that I’m doing what I love. Only after all those things do ‘disabled’ or ‘wheelchair-user’ make an appearance. Yes, being a wheelchair-user comes with some challenges but life is full of them. Should one be pitied because they have challenges when, if we’re honest, everyone has challenges of their own? I think not.

Because of the fact that I was born with a disability, my disability and my wheelchair by extension, cannot be removed from my identity.  That said, it is true that some people do see disability (particularly physical ones as they are often the most visible) as ‘pitiful.’ Does that mean that my identity, either in part or as a whole, is pitiful?

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Why I’m Leaving South Africa

To those South African friends: I’m not due to leave until the end of Undergrad so we’ve still got time together. That said, there are several reasons why I’m going to leave. This post focuses purely on one small aspect of why England is better on the Disability Front (which in and of itself is only one factor in the Emigration Decision).

My mother just got back from a trip through England for the last month earlier today. Yes, she spent some of the time with family and looking around but the primary motivation for the trip is house-hunting.

As a family, we’ve decided that we have to move to England after I’ve finished my Undergraduate for various reasons. While there, my mother decided to have a look around areas more generally as well as at specific properties. Hearing some of the stories of her trip in the hours since she’s been back, I’m amazed at the accessibility and general awareness of disability differences between England and South Africa.

Public Transport

The brief period of time that I spent in London a couple of years ago really opened my eyes to how accessible Public Transport could be for disabled people. Not once was there a bus, train, or taxi that I couldn’t use. Although I did not spend my time exclusively in London, London was the place where I used Public Transport the most.

Cape Town, in contrast with London, is largely unaware of its disabled population on the Public Transport Front. While one could argue South Africa’s awareness is somewhat justified given its past, it was refreshing to be in a place where accessing the city was possible (not to mention easy and affordable).

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The Altitude Group: An Update

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Hi Guys,

In November last year, I started working for the Altitude Group as a Researcher. The Altitude Group’s goal is to empower disabled people within the economy and help to increase the numbers of disabled people who are active members of the South African workforce. I blogged about the work Altitude was doing some time ago here on in the Diaries – see the original post here.

I think The Altitude Group are doing a great job of trying to address the disturbingly low number of disabled people in employment in South Africa. I know that there are many, many problems facing South Africa at the moment but I am glad that, in some small way, they are addressing this issue.

Since my last post, I have helped with the administration of a couple of the Learnerships and I have become all the more convinced that the work that the Altitude Group does is fantastic and should be applauded.

In case you want to learn more, you can follow them on FaceBook or find them on Twitter.

 

Terminologies & Apologies

* Disclaimer: These are my personal views on the topic and they cannot and should not be taken as being universal to everyone in the Disabled Community. * 

Given that I was born with a disability, I’ve never known life any differently. It’s happening a lot less frequently now but I used to get asked by people something a long the lines of “Isn’t there a cure for it?” or “If you could, would you get rid of the disability?”. The answer to the first question is a flat out “no” given current medical science. The answer to the second, however, is a little less clear-cut. Yes, disability comes with its own challenges but, then again, it’s all I’ve known. To change that, then, would be to change everything I know about myself and the world around me and, challenges aside, I’m quite happy with my life.

This same conundrum is brought up when someone hears I’m in a wheelchair and almost reflexively jumps to “I’m sorry” type responses. Yes, I understand why you’d say this in terms of the challenges that I face on a daily basis but, at the same time, those challenges have always been a part of me, it’s all I’ve known. While it would be nice to make some things easier, they’re no harder than they’ve always been, no harder than I’ve expected them to be. Since I’ve grown up with my disability guiding the way I do things in life, my disability is not so much a hindrance that affects me as it is a defining part of my identity as a person.

‘Disabled’ v. ‘Differently-Abled’

While I’m on the topic of Disability and Identity I think it’s time for me to shed some light on the terminology and how I see/use them in case some people may take offense to the way I use certain words or phrases. Given that this is an account of my personal experiences I think it’s only fair that I use terminology, both here and throughout the blog, that reflects my personal views towards terminology etc. in the Disability World. That said, some people disagree with me on some/all of these points (and that’s fine) so please be wary of which terms you use around people. There are only three terms I want to draw your attention to (this far): ‘disabled’, ‘handicapped’, and ‘people with disabilities’.

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