Access for the disabled consistently reveals a very ableist society. A lack of ramps in front of stores, inconvenient buttons to open doors that require a firm push (and don’t always work, for that matter. Have you ever pushed one of those buttons and the door remains sealed? It takes an act of god to pry that door open, even for an able-bodied person. But I digress…) which can prove to be difficult for someone who needs the stability of a cane or walker, handicapped bathroom stalls that, for one, are ridiculously small for a disabled person who needs ample room to maneuver equipment and for two, aren’t always immediately available to the person who needs it most. I am guilty of this myself, regrettably. If there is a handicapped stall open, I am sure to take it. Imagine my embarrassment when I leave the stall and a disabled person is waiting on me to be able to use the bathroom while the rest of the stalls are completely empty.
Having a disability, be it physically or mentally, places you in the largest marginalized group in the United States. There is a direct link between disability and poverty; while the EEOC has an anti-discrimination clause, anonymous employers surveyed cited they will not hire someone due to disabilities because they believe they cannot efficiently complete tasks and they fear it will be costly due to special facilities. This leads to an astronomical rate of unemployed disabled people and the cycle continues. There are laws in place to protect people living with disabilities from education discrimination but it doesn’t mean that opportunities are equal. They are often abused or neglected under the care of a school and face horrors that many of us cannot even imagine. As s.e. smith stated in ou’s blog post about the discriminations disabled students face, “[I]f you don’t think an entire class of people is part of humanity, obviously you’re not going to understand why they deserve basic human rights like an education and the right to live without fear. The only way we’re going to address the problem of abuse of disabled students is to get people to admit that disabled people are human beings.”
It is our job, as compassionate human beings, to listen to marginalized voices and take their qualms seriously. By looking at a marginalized group square in the face and telling them that their problems aren’t real or not everyone is like that is derailment. You may think you are being optimistic or helpful by squashing their very real issues by telling them that the world is not out to get them but you are actually silencing them. You are silencing a group of people who are already silenced every day. If you don’t contribute to ableist behavior, then good for you! You get a cookie. When people with disabilities say they face discrimination, you can rest assured that you are not the one they speak of and with that, you can listen with both ears and take their complaints as a learning opportunity. It was certainly a learning opportunity for myself when a friend told me about some of the issues she faces every single day. As an able-bodied person, it is my job to simply listen and learn. That is the very least we can do and is essential if we wish to end discrimination.