Telling someone “You do not look disabled” or “I don’t see you as disabled” is not the compliment some may think it is. It is said to reassure someone that they are not something bad, implying that they sympathize as they see it as a misfortune. This perpetuates the idea that being disabled is something that is negative and therefore looked down upon. These phrases, although masked as a flattering remark, are ableist.
What is ableism exactly? It is defined as discrimination, prejudice, or stereotyping based on perceived, or actual, physical and/or intellectual abilities. Ableism also includes discrimination against people who are neurodiverse. If you are disabled or caring for someone who is, you know that society is heavily structured around people who are able-bodied. Much of our culture, our communities, and our daily lives are built around the idea that some people are “less than,” incomplete, or in need of fixing in some way.
How can we make sure we are not using ableist language and actions? How can we be more mindful and make sure to not contribute to ableism in society?
Remember that people with disabilities are human. Acknowledge their differences as you would anyone else’s. Provide them with every option available to those without disabilities. Respect their personal space. Also, remember that not all disabilities are visible and invisible disabilities are just as real.
It’s important that we work to educate ourselves and recognize the ways in which the disability community faces discrimination and hardships through ingrained ableism. Every moment is an opportunity to continue learning and reflecting and there is always room for growth in ourselves and in our communities.