“What do I do if I say or do the wrong thing?”
This is the first question I almost always get asked when talking to anyone about ableism or disability. Here’s my open and honest thoughts.
We have to start by getting comfortable with having uncomfortable conversations. We are going to make mistakes… we are not perfect, we are human.
My grandfather use to always tell me that the first step to recovery is admitting that you have a problem. We can’t even begin to address ableism if we don’t talk about it openly and honestly.
When you hear or use euphemisms like “special needs”, or “differently abled”, I want you to question it and really think about why the words “disabled” or “disability” makes us so uncomfortable. Why is it such a hard topic to talk about?
The other questions I want you to ask yourself are: What is that thing I’m worried about saying or doing? What am I afraid of? What am I ashamed of?
Let’s get away from the fear of saying or doing the wrong thing; and instead, let’s learn to listen, ask questions, and do the hard work.
“You are so inspiring”
Now, I’m going to stop you before you tell me how inspiring I am. Please ask yourself, what makes me or any other person with a disability so inspiring to you? Did I do something that is actually inspiring, or is the bar set so low for people with disabilities that you think that I am somehow inspirational for waking up every morning and going to work every day.
Let me be frank, you probably will say or do the wrong thing and you will hurt or offend someone else. Accept it. Apologize for it. Learn why it was wrong. Don’t do it again. Tell your peers to do the same. Then do the hard work of using your power and privilege to actively address ableism in our communities and workplaces. That’s the work of anti-ableism!