Disability Rights are Civil Rights: The Form of Discrimination We're Apparently All Okay With

A couple of weeks ago, a letter to the editor showed up in my local paper making the argument that taxpayer dollars should not be spent on educating children with disabilities, but should instead be invested those dollars in the “best and brightest” students. As you can imagine, I was outraged. I was outraged for all of the obvious reasons- it’s ableist, it presumes that children with disabilities are less valuable and incapable of learning, and it’s a misrepresentation of what those taxpayer dollars actually do. But I was also outraged for a less obvious reason- why in the world did the Chattanooga Times Free Press give this person a platform?

We live in an era where it’s less acceptable to be openly racist, homophobic, etc than ever in modern American history. We still have a long way to go in those areas, don’t get me wrong, but people are WAY more likely to be called out for discriminating against someone based on their race or sexuality than they are to be called out for discriminating against someone for their disability status. If this lady had written a letter suggesting that we not use taxpayer dollars to educate minority students, but instead use that money to “invest” in white kids, I have a hard time believing that the paper would have published her letter. And if they had, I’d like to think that readers would be appalled and would be using their energy to call her and the paper out. Yet, very few people seem to be offended when she makes essentially the same argument about children with disabilities. Why is that? It’s just as gross as a racist or homophobic stance would be, yet people seem okay with discrimination against people with disabilities.

If you are outraged when you see racism or homophobia or other forms of discrimination, but do not find yourself called to action when you see discrimination against people with disabilities, I would urge you to do some serious soul searching. I don’t want to hear about what a warrior for social justice you are if you are not compelled to action on behalf of the most vulnerable people in our community. Until we start taking ableism as seriously as we take the other “isms”, we will continue to be a society that is based on inequality and we will continue to perpetuate systems that value one group of people more than others. Sitting back and doing/saying nothing is not okay. Your inaction helps uphold discriminatory systems and practices. In failing to call for change or hold people/systems accountable for their ableism, we are saying that we are okay with what they are doing. It is not okay. Stop accepting and tolerating ableism. Do better.

So what can you do?

  • Do some self reflection as to why you are okay with discrimination against people with disabilities. Just like the other “isms” a good starting point is to reflect on how your own actions (or inaction) have contributed to the problem.

  • Educate yourself about the many forms of discrimination against people with disabilities.

    • Then share what you know and learn with others.

  • Hold people, companies, and systems accountable when you see this form of discrimination.

  • Raise awareness & call ableism out when you see it. Tell people that these views are not okay.

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Challenging Our Beliefs About Disability: Embracing Disability as a Part of Diversity

There's a difference of opinions on where the best place to target cultural change is. Some think it should come from the top down- if we can change big systems, then that will change individual beliefs. Others think that it must come from the bottom up- if we ever hope to truly change a big system, we first have to change the attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors of the individuals that make up that system. I tend to believe that lasting change needs to happen at multiple levels simultaneously- the individual level, the group level, and within big systems.

A lot of the disability rights movement and the fight for inclusion has focused on generating change from the top down- working on legislation that promotes inclusion, holding systems accountable to upholding the law, etc. That is incredibly important and valuable work, but if we neglect the work to be done at the individual level in re-shaping our understanding of disability, then I believe we will forever be fighting against attitudes and practices that prevent people living with disabilities from fully participating in society.

That's why I started this rallying cry of "the future is inclusive". I'm not just interested in helping people get the resources they need today, I am also deeply interested in re-framing the way we think and talk about disability. For inclusion to happen, we must move beyond fighting for minimal compliance and instead altogether change how we perceive disability. We must embrace disability as a part of diversity and value the disability community as a powerful identity group.

Stay tuned for resources on how we can challenge our own perceptions, encourage others to evaluate their beliefs about disability, and take action to promote inclusion in our own lives and communities. 

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Learning to Advocate for Your Special Needs Child

One of the most common questions I get from families is how to navigate a new diagnosis so they can be more effective advocates for their child. There are a lot of elements in becoming a great advocate, many of which I am still learning myself. However, I'd argue that there are three key components that are great starting points- learning about your child’s disability, knowing your and your child’s rights, and knowing how to access resources. Here are some tips to get you started.

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