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What is Disablism anyway?

by Flash Wilson, May 1st 2006

Today is Blogging Against Disablism Day.

I bet you think you know what "disablism" is. Racism is picking on someone for their race, sexism is picking on someone for their sex - so disablism is hooking your tongue under your bottom lip, pointing at me and saying "Joeeeeeeey!" Right?

Well, actually to me disablism is a bit more basic. It's about the insulting practise of excluding disabled people and so reducing them to second class citizens. Usually, it's the result of a lack of thought; for example, my local corner shop has a ramp for access, but the aisles are crammed so close together that they are hard to navigate, and where they line the floor with extra stock it's impossible to get by at all. Maybe you practise disablism too - it's about when my mates organise a pub trip, but they choose one for the beer or the charm, and don't care that I won't be able to have a wee when I get there. Or when I'm invited to the cinema, but someone has already bought a block of tickets and none of them are seats I can use.

So, what can you do? Well, if you have a disabled friend, include them! Don't go to pubs and venues where they will be excluded - they shouldn't have to ask "actually, could everyone go somewhere else instead?" If you can't include them, don't invite them - it's insulting! What's the harm in picking a venue everyone can use - vote with your feet!

But what really infuriates me are people who see my stick and think this gives them the right to ask me personal questions. Would you go up to someone on a bus and say "Wow, you're fat, do you have a health problem or do you just love chocolate?" Or perhaps "I hope you don't mind me asking, but why aren't your palms black like your face?" Or even "Excuse me, but I've been wondering - are you a man or a woman?"

If you wouldn't dare to ask strangers those questions, then please don't ask a disabled person what's wrong with them! It's invasive, repetitive and annoying. If I want you to know, I'll tell you. But the infuriating thing is that I always answer politely, because I don't want you to get a bad impression of disabled people. Nevertheless, please think before you tell me I'm brave or ask how I cope. What's the alternative to getting on with life? Oh - and I really don't need to know if you have a friend with exactly the same condition, or if she was completely cured by glucosamine. Disabled people have heard it all before. (Particularly from taxi drivers.)

Deep breath. Calm...

Being practical, if you would like to help a disabled person, you can simply ask them "would you like any assistance". If they say no, it's not a snub. If they say yes, let them tell you how. I've had people assume that I can't stand up and just grab me and try to haul me to my feet - when I was simply waiting for the train to stop before rising! And in my opinion a very helpful thing you can do is to quickly offer your seat - especially if we are on some transport which is about to move off!

I'm sure a lot of causes of disablism are lack of thought or misunderstanding. A ramp doesn't make your store easy to use - but it's a start. The invite to the pub is nice - but I need to use the loo when I get there!

Hopefully, with a bit more awareness, we will keep heading towards equality. Until then, keep the faith and keep fighting!


This page last updated: 01 May 2006



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