As previously mentioned, I am very active on social media, Twitter in particularly- as I find this a very useful tool to connect with other disabled people and occupational therapists not just across the UK but worldwide. Not only this, social media platforms such as Twitter are useful to educate people about disability, and how to approach a disabled person. In which I think is really useful and as a disabled individual in higher education, I find this really important as it’s amazing how many people have called me ‘inspiring’ just because I’m at university which to me is not inspiring because that’s what a lot of people my age do. However, I’m also aware that the people who call me inspiring are only saying this with a kind heart and therefore need educating in a nice way rather than been made to feel belittled…
Now that I’m older and have a better understanding of my disability, I am noticing more and more that some comments towards my disability come from a very uneducated view. One comment that sticks in my mind which I often got as a teenager was “You’re getting much better at walking now” which came from people who saw me in my wheelchair most of the time. Obviously, I wasn’t getting better at walking and will never get better at walking. I used to always thank people when they said this with part of me wishing I should have said “Oh no, my legs just aren’t as tight today.’’ Which looking back now I wish I did say, because how will people know unless they’re educated? But the other part of me was saying just be polite this comment has come from a kind place. Which leaves me with a question… How do we educate people on how to treat disabled people in the correct way?
It’s 2020 if you’re an individual that hasn’t come across a person with a disability then you’ve probably been living under a rock; the reality is some people haven’t and therefore don’t know how to treat disabled people. Yes, treat us like ordinary people that’s a given but I don’t agree with calling a person ableist if they think they’re saying the right thing… Let’s go with the classic example “I don’t see you as disabled”- when people say this to me I’d be lying if I said it didn’t annoy me a little because I am disabled and if you don’t see that you’re looking passed a big part of me. However, on the other hand, I know that when people say this it’s coming from a good place it may not be the right place but it’s still a good place. Yes, these people need to be educated about this, but I don’t think writing this on social media with the hashtag ableist is the right way forward either. I bet, if the majority of the people who make these comments knew that it didn’t go down the way that they intended it to they’d be mortified I know I would be if I made an uneducated backhanded compliment about someone else’s disability. That’s why I don’t think shaming them on social media is the best way to go around it, even if names aren’t mentioned. Say something about it and question them, by all means, but when it’s unintentional, shaming them and getting on your high horse isn’t going to gain their respect.
I know more than anyone what it’s like when you’re making small talk with the taxi driver and you can literally hear the eggshells they’re stepping on because they’re scared to bring up the disability or say something wrong. But, I’d rather they say something wrong so that I can educate them rather than them not speaking because otherwise how are people going to learn? People learn from mistakes and without addressing these comments people will never learn. However, why create a bigger gap by making them feel disrespected? They’re still valued members of society.
If I made a comment and someone had taken this the wrong way, I’d want to respectfully be told why. My comment may not have come from the right place, but I can grantee that it will have come with good intentions and therefore I wouldn’t want to be treated with disrespect. My role as a disabled activist is to educate people, but not only this it’s to minimise the divide between disabled and abled bodied people not to maximise it, but with the wrong attitude towards these comments it could easily turn that way.
Therefore, a big part of this is establishing the correct terminology and phrases, instead of it being “I don’t see you as disabled” it could be…. “I see you for you” which is an ordinary girl who is totally happy with living her disabled lifestyle.
“I see you as disabled and…” Margaret Spencer, @margaretOT360
“I just see you as a person just like anyone else.” Craig Evans @dyspraxicot
“I acknowledge your disability, but it doesn’t define who you are.” Francesca Hughes @Franariella
“Do you mind if I ask how your disability affects you?” Natalie Williams @Natalie_MLW
The cover photo on this blog has been picked as unfortunately on that night the correct terminology wasn’t used!
With establishing this correct terminology people can still be educated but in a less belittling way. When some says “I don’t see you as disabled” yes, I want to ask why but I don’t feel belittled because I know that wasn’t their intentions. So why do they deserve to feel belittled? They deserved to be educated respectfully and if I ever did feel belittled, I would tell them why in a respectful way and make them understand before coming to the judgement that their ableist.
A lot of attitudes around disability need to change: the attitudes of people who are just dam right ableist, the attitudes of those that feel sorry for the disabled but also the attitudes of people who think that someone’s sympathy is them being ableist. I’m not saying that these sympathy comments don’t get annoying because they do; that’s why it’s called being sympathetic and not being empathetic. During my next placement, in the up and coming weeks, I will be working on changing people’s attitudes towards disability from a service user, students and a healthcare professional’s perspective. But which one will I find is the most suitable? The answer is probably going to be all 3, but until I complete this placement and have reflected, I don’t know.
Change is good, and I’m aware that even in 2020 we still need to change people’s uneducated or naive attitudes regarding disability. But treat people how you want to be treated, right?
Thank you for reading,