This is the last entry in my second series on Ableism, in which I offer some practical tips for people who want to know how they can battle different forms of disability discrimination or “ableism”. I have already suggested steps for fighting Well-Meaning Ableism and Systemic Ableism. Today, it’s what I call, “Asshole Ableism” … a.k.a., the really mean stuff, and the very dangerous stuff.
1. Confront, or at least give a very cold shoulder to anyone who tries to get you to join them in making fun of disabled people, using ableist slurs, or expressing disgust or resentment of disabled people.
Don't underestimate the power of the cold shoulder, especially for people who think they’re being hilarious. A disapproving look and no laugh can accomplish a lot. Example: Shaq’s Instagram photo mocking a disabled man’s unusual facial features.
2. Push back against people who claim that disabled peoples’ needs cost too much and take too much away from “normal” people.
People don't mind approving help for disabled people, until they think more for disabled people means less for everyone else. It's almost always a false choice, and sometimes, bureaucrats and politicians with an agenda will purposefully pit disabled peoples' needs against the needs of the "average citizen". Example: School budget debates where people blame Special Education mandates for cuts in music programs, football, advance placement classes, or whatever other programs people care about.
3. Be on alert for regressively ableist ideas that have the potential to gain renewed popularity.
Some people just seem attracted to out of date ideas ... sort of like people who love antiques. They think it's clever and refreshing to reanimate dead ideas. Example: Eugenics ... in which people argue that disabled people shouldn't be born and shouldn't reproduce because they are bad for the human gene pool. Or, re-segregation, where families and professionals might start to argue that separate, institutional services have gotten a bad rap, and are preferable to the stigma and harsh competition of mainstream life. Tell them that their ideas aren’t new or brave … they were bad in the old days and they’re bad now.
4. Learn about how disabled people have been treated throughout history … especially some of the ideas and policies that were once thought to be “progressive” or “humane”.
People are much better today at being polite and hiding or obscuring what they really think about things. It wasn’t long ago that otherwise decent, respectable, even compassionate people supported widespread institutionalization, forced sterilization, “mercy killing” as public policy. Remembering is a defense for the future.
5. Call out arguments that suggest that there should be different standards of treatment and civil rights for people with “certain kinds” of disabilities.
I've heard it dozens of times ... "Everything you're saying is right for disabled people like you, Andrew, but I'm talking about really disabled people." Example: Disability service providers who imply that disability rights and independent living values don’t really apply to intellectually disabled people, justifying paying below minimum wage and maintaining sheltered, segregated services. Different disabilities call for different approaches, but human rights and human agency are universal.
As you can see, most of the actions I suggest for Asshole Ableism are rhetorical. It goes without saying that you may find moments when you can actually cast a meaningful vote, too … such as in a school budget ballot or an assisted suicide referendum. Most often, though, confronting Asshole Ableism simply means confronting assholes who are ableist. Since they so seldom pay a price for their assholeism, a little bit of confrontation, or just passive resistance and refusal to “go along" can be quite powerful.