The Kind of Discrimination We Scarcely Talk About: Ableism

Racism, sexism and classism – we hear about them so often in our society when we speak of those who are oppressed. There may be, at times, ageism that we speak of too, but rarely. And what about ableism? Many people don’t even know such a term exists; the word came up casually one day during a conversation that I was having with a friend, and she asked: “Wait, that exists?” Mind you, this was only a couple of years ago, when we were in our third year in college.

It’s quite straightforward when we think of how able-bodied and mentally healthy individuals have an advantage of those who have a disability. If someone can easily walk, he doesn’t have to worry if a new friend’s house will have steps in front of the house if he’s never been there before. Moreover, we often use the word “depressed” casually, sprinkling it in our daily conversations when we are exhausted or stressed out, but there are genuine cases severe enough that prevents a suffering student from attending class even though he knows it is crucial to go.

There are more nuanced, subtle ways that prejudice still exists, and I’m specifically talking about when it comes to disabled individuals. When I was accepted into UCLA for college, my best friend and I visited the campus for a day. As we sat and gazed at cars whizzing by on Westwood at a nearby hospital bench, she said, “my mom says colleges have to accept a certain number of disabled students.”

Right there. This is what I’m talking about. She had said it so casually, so casually that I was too stunned to be instantly offended. She was my best friend. She knew how much I hustled ­in community college – went to professors’ office hours religiously, joined the Honors Program and stressed over my exams and essays – during the whole time I was there to transfer within two years. In fact, I was the one who encouraged her to join the Honors Program with me. By the end of my stay at CC, I had won numerous scholarships and became a member in PTK and AGS. I volunteered as a tutor for a year. But none of that mattered. Never mind that I also got accepted to UC Berkeley and UC San Diego. Never mind that I had a 4.0 GPA and always maintained it. Truth is, I don’t even know if the UC colleges still use AA, and to specifically accept disabled students. The matter was that my effort was not acknowledged by my best friend, someone who should have been my biggest cheerleader and supporter. And I don’t think I can convince nonbelievers otherwise. I ended up attending UCLA, where I joined its College Honors and graduated magna cum laude. But nonbelievers wouldn’t see that. Prejudice would just sweep all those accomplishments away, and they’d see me in my scooter, me without the ability to walk, as somehow the magic solution that had granted me whatever I actually worked for.

7 thoughts on “The Kind of Discrimination We Scarcely Talk About: Ableism

  1. Brilliant piece. Recently I was accepted into a popular creative writing residency course in which I represented my school and I was very proud thinking I was accepted because I am a great writer. I soon found out – from the man in charge himself – that he felt he had to say yes to me because I’m disabled and he didn’t want to make himself, the programme or the council mad. It upsets me that I too work hard yet its never admired – and if ever I am admired its always because of my disability. Ableism is real, i just wish more people knew.

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    • Thank you, and god – I’m sorry to hear about your experience. Yes, ableism definitely needs to be talked about more; it’s sad how many people are quite ignorant of its existence. Also, I’m sure you already think this way, but always know your worth and strengths, and never let your disability make you feel inferior. Sometimes the way people think about us is beyond our control and the only thing that we CAN control is how we view and treat ourselves. Btw, CONGRATS on your acceptance! I’m switching to a different subject here, but I am also considering grad school in creative writing; may I ask which school you attend?

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      • Thank you, you are so kind! I’m still at high school in Scotland and the programme was run by my local council called The Creative Residency – I went in June this year for a week. I wish to go on to study English Literature (and possibly Creative Writing if a university lets me) so writing has always been something a big thing in my life. Personal / reflective writing has been a way of helping me cope and come to terms with my disability, creative writing has been a way of letting me escape into my own little made up world and writing about ableism has allowed me to really say what I want to say.

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      • That sounds so exciting and I’ve got to say that I’m quite envious of you; I studied abroad in England last year and become obsessed. I wish I lived in the UK. And isn’t that great about writing? Its powers work wonders. I majored in English in my university and concentrated in creative writing my senior year. I don’t regret having majored in English and taking short story classes was easily one of the best decisions I’ve made (going to the UK was as well, of course!) I wish you best wishes!

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