notes on ableism and disphobia

i have friends that do great things 
and are committed to their politics
 (by 'politics', in this context, i 
simply mean, viewing other people as 
human beings - because that's not always
 a given, due to the widespread epidemic of
 everyday ignorance. 

my friend j. witnessed injustice and that
 took action against it. she wrote a letter:

Letter to the Editor:

Today (29 April 2011) I witnessed a man in a wheelchair being refused* entry onto a VIVA bus (heading north from the Finch Station to Newmarket Terminal). He had paid the same fare and waited the same time as all of the able-bodied people at the stop. He even had a woman advocating for him: informing the bus driver that there was a man in a wheelchair waiting to board.

All of this was to no avail. The driver simply drove away, announcing to those on the bus (not to the man subjected to the treatment) that he could catch the next one.

With that example in mind, I would like to make a few suggestions to York Region Transit:

First, I suggest putting signs up indicating that buses are for able bodied people only. Signage could include a slogan reading “If you can’t walk, you can’t ride,” or a picture of a person in a wheel chair crossed out (inferring that being in a wheelchair is as taboo as smoking on the bus).

I would also suggest issuing first class tickets for those who are able-bodied. The second class citizens (ie. those with disabilities) would probably be grateful to be discriminated against if they could save a nickel or two. This would, however, work best if there could be a loud speaker (similar to an airport) announcing when it’s time for the normal able-bodied people to board and informing the second class citizens that they may have to wait another ten minutes or so assuming the next driver is willing to stop for them.

Next, I would advise taking down the signage encouraging people to give their seats to the elderly or those with special needs. These signs could easily be replaced by ableist propaganda or signs informing riders that the bus doesn’t give a shit about the right of persons with disabilities to access adequate transportation or to be free from discrimination.

As a last resort, if none of those suggestions work, I would encourage York Region Transit to consider how it would feel to be left behind at a bus stop, to consider that hierarchy is bad for those at the bottom as well as those at the top, and to consider making their services for humans. All humans.

Janna Payne

Richmond Hill, ON

*synonyms for refused: rejected, denied, shunned.

Small everyday action can make a difference. Don’t let people get away with oppressive attitudes.

Say something!

Speaking of (dis)ability education and activism, everyone should check out david hingsburger. he is a witty, smart-as-hell, outspoken writer and presenter who has lots to say about power dynamics, oppression and privilege, self-esteem and self-advocacy, disability and sexuality, violence, bullying and anti-abuse of people with developmental disabilities.

Here is one of his blog entries:

truth telling

 “Never before have I desperately wanted to do a radio or television interview so badly. Never. We drove away from doing a session on bullying and teasing with individuals who have an intellectual disability. They were a terrific bunch, full of fun and humour and absolutely eager to learn. They knew exactly when to laugh and exactly when to participate seriously. Sometimes I’m shocked that these who learn differently are considered those who learn slowly.
The workshop always starts out loud and fun, lots of humour, lots of time to participate. Slowly, as trust is gained, as a sense that we are all in a safe place together, we move to the more serious issues around social violence. They’ve all experienced it. They all bear witness to life as someone different. Each has a story to tell. Many choose to stay silent, as if putting into words the hurt will make it even more real. They listen with attention. At one point I am overwhelmed. I can’t identify the emotion. I am angry, I am griefstruck, I am outraged, I am mournful, I am defeated, I am completely saddened. I do not understand. I know it happens. I’ve experienced it for a lifetime. In an odd kind of juxtaposition I have always understood why I was teased – what else should I expect, fat, ugly, gay, disabled. But I have never understood why others are teased. I can see their difference but I do not experience it the way they do. I see it as a positive addition to the world. They, oddly, can’t understand why I’d be teased, but fully accept their own. I guess we all come to believe in our worthlessness even as we assert the worth of others.I asked, pausing carefully considering the possible consequences of the answer, ‘Is there anywhere you go that you are safe? Completely and utterly safe.” They too, paused considering the cost of truth, ‘Nowhere.”Nowhere.’These kids live in small communities. You know the vaunted ‘small towns with big hearts’ communities. You know the ‘Every one’s a neighbour, every one’s a friend’ village. They don’t feel safe. Only in their homes. And there, only when alone.Brutalization of people with disabilities is so commonplace that it passes unnoticed. In spring flowers bloom, in fall leaves are shed from trees but people with disabilities are a victim in all seasons.When it was over they all, or almost all, stopped to shake my hand and thank me. Partly for what they learned. Partly for the fun they’d had. But also partly for the opportunity to tell the truth.And it’s a big truth.One that must be told, because it’s a truth that will change – if not the world, at least how those in the world see themselves.I wanted to tell the world. This is the only way that I can. Now it’s up to you.”

here are some other resources from him. 


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