Co-written by Carter Alvey
Growing up is difficult. We face ups and downs every single day, but growing up with a disability is an entirely different story. As an able-bodied teenager in today’s increasingly diverse society, I have an unmistakeable privilege over anyone who has a disability. The ignorance towards this privilege and also the discrimination towards disabled people in general is referred to as ableism. The principles of ableism revolve around the idea that disabilities are an error or a result of some sort of failure rather than simply being a factor of diversity such as race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc. An extremely serious example of ableism in application is the wage gap between disabled workers and able-bodied workers. In 48 states, it is legal to pay someone with a disability lower than the minimum wage. With the exception of Maryland and New Hampshire which have passed a law requiring at least the minimum wage for disabled employees, workers who have disabilities are being cheated out of hard earned money for something they cannot control.
Just like racism and sexism, ableism is a division of intersectional feminism. As a member of the feminist community, I admit that ableism is often placed on the back burner and not given the attention it desperately needs. Ableism is toxic as it has and can continue to create a culture of ignorance and bullying towards those with disabilities. Presumptions, scarcity of information, and lack of open-mindedness lead to the ignorance that has truly put disabled people at a disadvantage in our society.
Since ableism is an issue often ignored, I know that it is important to hear and amplify the voices of those with disabilities, so I decided to ask my close friend Carter Alvey about his experiences with ableism and what he thinks needs to be done:
“I’m Carter Alvey, a normal boy who just so happens to walk a little differently than everyone else. I have level 3, spastic Cerebral Palsy. For those of you that don’t understand what that means, basically, I have weaker muscles and infinitely minuscule spasms in the smallest muscles in my body. For example, a small portion of my Latissimus Dorsi in the lower region will sometimes contract and relax very rapidly for a ten second period. Although I am very lucky to have contracted such a mild form of the muscle disorder, I still feel the effects of ableism every day.
Throughout much of my youth, I was extremely shy and ultimately insecure about my disability. Although as I grew older, I became more comfortable with it and I began to feel much more adept at socializing and making friends, largely due to my participation in sports. As I reached the fifth grade I felt almost normal. I finally felt comfortable in that environment, and I was accepted by my peers. Sadly, in order to advance in my academic endeavors I had to transfer schools. This is where everything changed. Although high in spirit, I began my new school as an outcast due to an uncontrollable minuscule difference (CP) between myself and others for the first time in forever. Despite all the social disadvantages I faced, I still propelled myself through this seemingly perpetual social hell and began to make friends. Sadly, making these acquaintances came with a price. I began to experience ableism in ways I had never understood before. I was being called “crazy legs” by my classmates who barely even knew my name. Seemingly playful to my classmates, I’m sure, but for me, it hit hard. I was being discriminated against because I walked differently. This continued for the rest of my middle school career, and if only I had recognized it as a large problem within the disabled community, instead of a minuscule, personal one, I would have done something about it.
As normal citizens, I think ableism is often difficult to decipher by simply looking at the disadvantages faced from being disabled, but I assure you, ableism is a reality that we must accept. I believe to prevent ableism, we should fight for more education about how some people have to do things differently, and how that’s okay. No one should ever have to face prejudice for something they can’t control.”
As you can see, ableism is a cycle in our society: a lack of education leads towards ignorance, the ignorance can lead towards discrimination and bullying, and the discrimination and bullying is subsequently the oppression of those with disabilities. I know that we can fight ableism, for not enough is being done to normalize disabilities. Some solutions I present include education. Education about various disabilities will deplete the amount of ignorance we have towards disabilities. Accessibility is also an issue. While most public places have worked towards accessibility for those with disabilities, there is more we can do to ensure convenient accessibility. Representation is another solution. In the media, on TV, in movies, etc, we rarely, if ever, see someone with a disability. This representation will, just as education, diminish ignorance and the misunderstanding we have towards disabilities.
So now that you understand the concept of ableism in our society, you can begin fighting by simply helping those with disabilities live the same lifestyle you do. Yes, they may be different, look different, or walk different; but at the core, we are all the same. By recognizing and respecting those with disabilities, we can begin to reach for equality and normalization, and most importantly, justice.