It’s very easy to get caught up in outrage online, especially on Twitter. The disability community can be fab, but it can also become pretty insular, mean, and lose the ability to see outside of its own perspectives.
I’ve noticed that this can be an issue when it comes to calling out ableism and ableist language and actions that we come across online.
As a bit of an online activist myself, I understand the desire to do this, and I do it quite often. But I think it’s important in our activism to note the difference between ignorance and malicious ableist attitudes.
And yes, I know a lot of stuff is just ingrained in our society, but hear me out for a mo, ok?
I didn’t grow up with a disability. I’ve had health issues my whole life, but I was able to ‘push through them’ a lot and didn’t really identify as chronically ill until my early-mid twenties, and then disabled until a year or so ago. Aside from my health, I had a pretty privileged life, and didn’t really encounter anyone with disabilities in my day-to-day existence.
As a person, I’m pretty impatient and not all that empathetic. I have quite a typical Type A personality – I like to get to the point and get things done, and don’t really have time for faffing around with anything. I’m pretty strong in my opinions and how I came to them. But my opinions can change based on new information.
Everyone who knows me says I’m probably a much better and kinder person because of my health issues, and I think that’s true. It has made me see things so differently, and I know I’m definitely more empathetic and patient than I otherwise would be.
Until I got so ill that issues around disability and ableism affected me, I had no way of knowing anything about them. I wouldn’t have thought about accessible stations, plastic wrapped pre-chopped veg, or flexible, remote working to enable more people to work. I would have just got on with my life doing all the things I still kinda wish I could be doing, and I’d be none-the-wiser to the struggles that real-world Natasha has every day.
Because I wasn’t confronted with it. Not in my family or my social circle. I’ll leave representation in the media as a separate topic here, but I am aware that plays a huge role.
The point is, I think we need to appreciate that a lot of things people may initially say as a response to something that can be called out as ableist may just come out of ignorance. And they shouldn’t be publicly shamed for that.
What matters is what happens afterwards. If they’re confronted and educated by someone about a negative experience or how something could help their lives improve, then they’re doing the right thing. I’ve received (and seen) so many people online saying “oh, I never thought about it that way, but now I know I’ll stop saying ..”.
We can’t blame people for not knowing things they’d have no way of knowing. And I think it’s disingenuous to expect everyone to want to just search every single minority group and know how to support them. It’s just not feasible. And yes, it’s hard to “activist your life”, but there are those of us who enjoy it most of the time, and I personally get a lot out of talking about my disabilities in order to educate other people.
The people we should be getting upset with are the people who will ignore, dismiss, and continue to troll, even when they know better. The cruel people who try to determine “how sick you really are”, and continue to use language and behave in ways that make life harder for people with disabilities.
Being constantly ill is bloody hard, and it can be so easy to see everyone as against you – especially when so many things in society ARE against us in so many ways. But it’s so important to try and distinguish between malicious intent and oppressive structures, and people who simply don’t know better through no real fault of their own.
After all, I’d know absolutely nothing about the stuff I talk and educate about every day if I weren’t ill. And it’s important to remember that.