Ableist- We Love em Anyway!

(Please watch the video before reading the article. Otherwise it will make no sense.)

I hope you enjoyed the video. Of course racism is nothing to be laughed at but this video is very good. It pokes fun at white people who sometimes exhibit unconscious bias. You know, those people that claim they are not racist but actually are. Usually they start a sentence with – “I am not racist but ….”

But this article is not about racist it is about ableist. I’m going to use this video to highlight the many experiences of ableism that I have experienced in my life. I am sure many of my disabled and Deaf colleagues will relate. And to all those non-disabled people out there who accept me and are inspired by me because of what I have achieved despite…. This is for you!

“You see I was special. I was Lil’ Deaf Gary”

“We love white people at SBS and we deeply respect their vibrant culture and way of life. HELLO ELLEN …” – It was this line that made me realise that their are many similarities between racism and ableism. Who amongst us in the disability community has not heard of the Down Syndrome community being tagged as happy and joyful. “Down syndrome people are so lovely , they are always happy …” Or those hearing people who wish they were Deaf because Deaf culture is so enchanting. But mostly for me it was the bloke patronisingly getting down to Ellen’s level, almost as if he were superior, to say hello loudly and slowly. This really hit me!

Not to long ago I worked at the Yarra Ranges Council. We worked in these partitioned offices. These offices were divided by false walls and at eye level there were small glass panes. Every morning my boss, Rachel was her name, would come in and peer at me through this pane. With eyes wide and an enormous grin she would wave crazily at me. “MORNING GARY .. ” she would say in what I fancied was a high pitched mocking tone. Being Deaf I would not know.

Not to anyone else, just to me. You see I was special. I was Lil’ Deaf Gary. She meant well, I know. She was trying to make me feel included. But every morning I dreaded the moment that she would come in and unconsciously patronise me. It was a strangely stressful routine that irritated me no end. I felt guilty for wanting to punch her in the face. In hindsight this desire was entirely warranted. She looked not unlike the woman in the picture below, honest.

Photo of an oldish woman, Staring manically with a wild grin, She has fishing line spool for earnings. She is wearing black spectacles and curlers in her hair.

“I firmly believe that white people continue to make a fascinating and meaningful contribution to society …..”  – Breathe deeply  my Disabled and Deaf colleagues. We have all heard this. Non-disabled people spouting nonsense about how people with a disability should be allowed to be a valued part of our community. It is almost like these non-disabled people give us permission to do so.

It’s not seen as something that should be standard. It is seen as something that is rare and wonderful. When we disabled people are actually out their achieving something it’s because these non-disabled people have made it possible. Not because we disabled people have worked our butts off to get our qualifications. Not because we have overcome any number of prejudiced attitudes. Not because we have found a way around any number of barriers that society has placed in our way. It is because non-disabled people think we should be able to. And permission granted they ride off into the sunset with a warm glow because they, of course, made it all possible. Harsh? Perhaps, but that is the reality.

” … And he is just like anyone else.” – Oh yes Deafie plays cricket just like everyone else even though he can’t hear his team mates. Oh yes, Bobby the autistic is just like all of us. He loves and eats and goes to the toilet. Oh and they have sex too . They are gay, god forbid, but there are gay disabled’s too. Stella Young used to tell the story of people patting her on the head and proclaiming that it was wonderful that she was out and about. No doubt it was a shock that she could do this,  just like them. I had girlfriend once who took me to a dinner party and started telling people all the things I could do and liked to do, just like everyone else. The relationship did not last long.

My favourite was the cabinet maker that loved employing deaf people because they couldn’t hear what people were talking about and were not distracted.”

“Some of our best employers are white …. “  – Now … This one really grates. I have worked in and around the employment sector for nearly 30 years. This is how the disability sector markets people with a disability. You see people with a disability are spectacular workers. Their disability does not stop them. They love coming to work. They are rarely sick. They are punctual. My favourite was the cabinet maker that loved employing deaf people because they couldn’t hear what people were talking about and were not distracted. This made them more productive. And people with a disability are good for team morale, they inspire everybody.

I have spent a lifetime telling the sector to stop marketing disability in this way. I say often that you must focus on the skills that the people with a disability bring. You must focus on the fact that they are good at what they do. That they are value for money. You invest in the person because they are worth it and will bring a return for your investment.

Disability comes into it a bit. After all you have to modify things sometimes. Sometimes you need some assistance from the government to meet the cost of modifications. This is all part of the marketing. Please don’t start marketing with, “… if you employ a disabled person you will get x amount of dollars in wages subsidy.” Focus on the value and the skills. Despite my best efforts, nothing much has changed.

There you have it. The video at the start of this article was a spoof on racism. It reverses things and highlights the attitudes and behaviours that white people often are guilty of.

People are often unconsciously racist.  If you pick them up on this they will become incredibly offended. This is also the case with ableism. We people with a disability or who are Deaf face it everyday. We grin and bear it most of the time. But make no mistake, even though it can sometimes be funny, it hurts!

*** The Deaf community often use the term Audism to highlight ableism that is targeted at people who are deaf.


“There’s nothing more debilitating about a disability than the way people treat you over it.”
Solange nicole


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