I was asked to lecture some women’s studies classes about ableism. It caused me to do a lot of thinking about how I could talk about the topic without blaming and shaming the people I want to recruit to the cause of working toward access for people with disabilities to the good life.

I try to make my talk fun and accessible by talking about common experiences like playing Trivia Crack and highlighting small things they are doing to be accessible, like not raising their hands to ask questions.

I talked about what ableism is: “ Ableism is the practices and dominant attitudes in society that devalue and limit the potential of persons with disabilities. Ableism – a set of practices and beliefs that assign inferior value (worth) to people who have developmental,  emotional, physical or psychiatric disabilities.” From http://www.stopableism.org.

I used a few trivia questions like “Name two U.S. presidents who had disabilities.” and “When was braille invented?” to help the students begin to notice the invisibility of the 19% of Americans who have a disability. After talking about disability words and asking them to use accurate language (“blind” not “visually challenged”), I talked about images and stereotypes. When asked to choose, they overwhelmingly picked the new access symbol over the old. I talk about three models of disability:

  • Moral: disability equals sin; be ashamed and hide the disability.
  • Medical: fix it or teach compensatory skills like braille and assistive tech.
  • Minority: Disability is a part of life; embrace it.

I described the realities of disability life, which I’ve summarized in the first five letters of the alphabet:

  1. We have to ask/advocate for what we want and need.
  2. There’s a bubble of isolation around us.
  3. It costs more to have a disability.
  4. We experience discrimination in many ways.
  5. The everydayness of disabilities; dealing with unequal access and people’s attitudes are everyday adventures for me. They’re like death and taxes; they’re inevitable.

Then I launched into what they could do about ableism. I covered four reasons why they should do something:

  • Pay it forward because we’re a joinable group.
  • Nondiscrimination is the law.
  • It’s the right thing to do.

I suggest hanging with people with disabilities. Realize you’ll be uncomfortable, acknowledge it, and go out of your comfort zone. I ask the audience to look around their good life, figuring out where people with disabilities aren’t at the table and asking why and working to change it.  Then I wrap up with things you might gain by becoming an ally, like a new perspective on daily events, valuing interdependence and a few good laughs at how awkward we all are with each other’s individualities.

I need some kind of altar call, so this time I tried “name the movement”. That was met with a resounding thud. So I’m left wondering if I changed hearts and minds. If the prof passes on journal entries from the students, that will help me know. If they stop me on campus and chat, that’ll be a good sign. One has already passed on my name to her mom who needs a speaker in her school district. Luna got immediate positive feedback from students who miss their dogs and were glad to meet her.  I guess I’ll call the talk “Only You Can Stop Ableism” until a better title comes to mind. All entries considered!

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