Thursday, April 3, 2014

Photo Of The Day

Woman with long blonde hair, in a manual wheelchair, wearing an ornately patterned dress with purples and blues, and a blue top with a light yellow shawl

3 Ableisms: Part 2 - Systemic Ableism

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There are two sides to the “Systemic Ableism” coin. First, there are the physical barriers, policies, and practices that get in our way and exclude us from full participation and equal opportunity. Second, there is the ongoing failure of people to fix these things. Systemic Ableism is aspects of “the way things are” that passively keep us out or hold us back, not because anyone actively wants to exclude us, but because they either don’t realize we are excluded, or they don’t care about it enough to make fixing the barriers a priority.

Let’s get specific, because like all “systemic” forms of prejudice … like Systemic Racism or Systemic Sexism … Systemic Ableism is often too abstract to understand without examples:

- Buildings that are not wheelchair accessible, including steps at the entrance, narrow doorways, high counters, and inaccessible bathrooms. These barriers literally exclude people with physical disabilities.

- The persistence of segregated education of kids with disabilities throughout public and private education. This is an example of how policies and practices create Systemic Ableism. In this case it perpetuates an “unequal” education, which triggers even more barriers and problems when disabled kids become disabled adults.

- Long term care systems that make it administratively easier to find everyday care for disabled people in nursing homes and institutional settings than to assemble the services needed to live independently in the community. This is a very potent example of Systemic Ableism, in that it literally dumps people into more restricted, hemmed-in lives, not by necessity, but by habit and bureaucratic inertia.

- Benefits and support systems that create disincentives and limits on disabled people who want to move towards work and financial independence. “Work Disincentives” hold disabled people back from pursuing careers and economic independence. Disincentives are also rooted in an essentially “Well Meaning Ableist” idea … that that by definition, disabled people can’t work, and if we are working, then obviously we aren’t disabled and don’t need support anymore.

- Continuing out-of-date, discredited programs like Sheltered Workshops and nursing homes. These, too, are policies and program models rooted partly in a “Well Meaning Ableism” idea … the that disabled people are better “cared for” in group settings, constantly supervised, and removed from the jumble of everyday society.

- The combination of inaccessible pedestrian pathways throughout communities, a patchwork availability of accessible transportation, and the great expense of obtaining privately-owned accessible vehicles, that create serious barriers to mobility.

It occurs to me that another thing that all these examples have in common is that virtually nobody wants things to be quite this way. There is wide agreement even by decision makers in these systems that they aren't ideal. It’s just that they are apparently not bothered enough to change them. We essentially know how to fix all of these problems. If some of them would require a lot of work and a lot of money, that simply underscores that the issue is priority, not ability. If we really cared to make this society barrier-free, it would be done. The issue is that people do care, just not enough.

Finally, like other types of systemic prejudice, Systemic Ableism tends to be hidden in plain sight. Most people don't even notice, much less question the basic, familiar structures of everyday life. "Systemic Ableism" is probably the easiest form of ableism to change, and yet the least likely to be changed, just because the only people who tend to notice Systemic Ableism are those of us who experience it directly.

Tomorrow, we turn to the Dark Side, with a look at “Asshole Ableism."