If you Google the word “ableism” the first result to come up is: “discrimination in favor of able-bodied people (emphasis added.)”
This is much different from the definition of any other discrimination such as racism or sexism. These are defined as prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against people of said group; feeling as though you are superior to them.
I think this is why people don’t understand ableism as being a systemic problem. I’ll often have people ask, “You mean, people who hate people with disabilities?” And although, yes, ableism can be extreme and hate crimes exist, ableist acts are often more passive and most prevalent in our day to day lives.
The easiest way for me to explain this is to tell you some of my experiences.
I went to Nashville this past month, and I was determined to book an AirBnB instead of a hotel. I’ve tried this before, and depending on where you’re traveling, it can be next to impossible for someone like me, who uses a wheelchair. AirBnB allows people to host guests in their own houses, so it’s not surprising that my options for accessible places might be limited. What was surprising, however, was that even after filtering my search to only show me places that have been listed as “wheelchair accessible” (which, by the way, is an awesome filter to have. Way to go AirBnB,) I ran into a lot of trouble.
Every AirBnB I was even remotely interested in I messaged first. I told them my situation and exactly what I needed, and even offered up suggestions to make the stay possible if their place wasn’t exactly accessible. When hosts found out I was disabled, I was met with a lot of instant rejection. Some hosts were straight up rude, despite listing their place as wheelchair accessible.
Long story short, after much frustration and rejection, I finally found a host that was able and more than happy to host me. My trip was coming together, but more bumps were ahead.
When I got to Nashville, I ran into a lot of problems with transportation. I knew it’d be more difficult for me to find an accessible taxi, but I had no idea it’d be next to impossible. I called every company (at least twenty taxi companies,) and all of them told me they didn’t have any available or weren’t willing to find one. I was often forced to walk a mile or more in the dead of night. My wheelchair battery lost power on one such occasion.
Out of pure chance, I happened to meet one very nice taxi driver (the only accessible taxi driver I could find) and he told me this was inexcusable–that these companies did have wheelchair vans. In fact, after some research, I found that offering an accessible van is mandated by law. So why was finding accessible transportation so difficult?
It seems to me that these transportation companies and AirBnB hosts don’t value the business of travelers with disabilities. They often favor the business of non-disabled people, whether it be out of convenience or a more blatant form of discrimination. Oftentimes it’s the former–I don’t think they hate me, they’d just rather not deal with me.
This is just one story, but these passive acts happen every day. People with disabilities are often seen as an inconvenience to able-bodied people, and it’s a harsh reality that I think we’re too quick to brush over.
Ableism means a lot of things, but it paints a picture that as a disabled person, you’re not worth the effort or that you shouldn’t be afforded the same rights as everyone else if it’s too difficult. It stems into this whole concept that it’s okay to not be your true self, to not live the life you want, to not have the freedom you want because you’re disabled, and the idea that it’d be “too hard” to live a normal life and reach the same basic rights of able-bodied people. It shows us that any inconvenience is “too much.”
At the end of the day, ableism is blatant oppression, but it doesn’t always start that way. The way you think toward any group of people can grow into hate crimes, but it starts with your perception. Equality won’t truly be achieved unless we start with the way we think about and view others, consciously or otherwise.