There is a high cost to disabled people for speaking out about ableism. I call it secondary ableism.
That is, when a disabled person publicly (or privately) talks about ableism we face, some of the responses are ableist.
“Maybe you’re overreacting.”
“Maybe they were having a bad day.”
“There are two sides to every story.”
“Well of course they were afraid of you, it’s not often they’d encounter someone like you.”
I’ve heard it all. As have many other disabled people.
It. Is. Exhausting.
There are things that I don’t talk about publicly because I cannot deal with the fallout on social media. This is what I’ve learnt.
The discriminatory event, the administrative follow up of making complaints; and then, the devil’s advocates who come out if it makes the media. It can be so lonely.
A few years ago I went overseas. It took a lot to organise my ointments in my luggage, and the bulkhead seat – with all airlines. It was hard to contact some of the airlines, and also prove medical needs, despite letters from doctors and pharmacists.
When I was in New Orleans the airline staff doubted my doctor’s letter was real, and assumed the pharmacy stickers on my ointment were doctored. I had to argue to get them in stowed luggage. (It’s been so long since I’ve traveled that I wrote stowed, not stowaway – which I’d love to do!) Words were exchanged, it was heated and frightening.
And then in London, the bulkhead seat request didn’t go through, despite contacting the airline several times prior. I was exhausted, showing them proof of my contact. Again, heated words were exchanged. I landed back in Melbourne and saw that someone had created a Facebook account in my name; telling me they’d checked me in at Heathrow and I was “stroppy bollocks”. I called the airline to complain and they suggested that staff member had been hacked.
I have been in similar situations – with taxi drivers refusing to drive me as “my face will ruin their cab”; a shop assistant asking me to leave their store; a nail technician refusing to do my nails as I “might be contagious”; and a house cleaner getting a shock at my appearance and running away.
I have gotten upset, yelled and sworn at them. Not my proudest moments but I am not apologising. The rage is real.
I often expect and prepare for the worst, because the worst often happens. The work it takes to ask for access needs to be met, and then the cumulative impact of trauma and discrimination means that disabled people have every right to be angry. Often when I’ve complained, a non disabled person often told me it’s not discrimination.
I aim to be polite in most situations. But I cannot guarantee I will be polite when I’m discriminated against yet again. I go into fight or flight mode. Upset, shouting, swearing.
Non disabled people are not used to seeing angry disabled people. We are supposed to be passive, quiet, polite.
And then there’s the “you better not behave badly in case someone’s only experience with a disabled person is an angry one” 🙄
We are conditioned to educate about our disabilities at all times, and not to make a fuss. We are expected to perform inspiration on command, and be grateful for the times we don’t experience discrimination.
Disability discrimination happens – intended or not. You might not believe it because you can’t imagine anyone ever treating a disabled person less than respectfully. And so when it does happen, believe us.
Let us be angry, and understand why we are angry.
Realise that this probably isn’t the first time we’ve encountered discrimination; and that we are attuned to spotting it – even when it’s a micro-aggression.
Help us share the burden by speaking up and making complaints with us.
Instead of telling us on social media that you saw us get angry at the discrimination we endured, ask us how can you help us in the moment. Stop being a bystander.
That is good allyship.
Disabled people are angry, and we have every right to be.
Has this post helped you think about disability differently? Will you use it in your workplace or school? Please consider buying me a drink!