Ableism. The discrimination or prejudice against individuals with disabilities, both physical and mental. Put in the context of the community of amputees, it is discrimination in favour of able-bodied people. Much like any other prejudicial attitude or action, it manifests as a product of ignorance, insecurity or indifference. Ableism can affect us in our employment, as consumers of goods and services, in public spaces, or even at home with our friends and family.
There are protections against some of the more obvious forms of ableism such as the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) or the Ontario Human Rights Code (OHRC). Well-intentioned legislation designed to protect against discrimination and poor accessibility is far from perfect, but it is at least something by which the province of Ontario can measure and enforce compliance. Here are just a few examples of what this type of legislation aims to address.
- The development, implementation, and enforcement of accessibility standards
- Remove barriers to accessibility of goods and services, facilities and employment
- Protect against discrimination and harassment because of a disability, past, present or perceived
- Provide resources to educate service providers about accessibility and the rights of the disabled
Perhaps an employer finds ways to constructively dismiss someone having “too many” medical appointments. Maybe a concert facility fails to provide fully accessible washrooms. There are many examples where institutional ableism reaches levels of legal discrimination. The law aims to protect us from these situations. The fact is, the energy and effort in fighting these battles can be costly and overwhelming. It can be discouraging. Many of us that have been employed by a business of more than a handful of employees have taken the AODA and OHRC training in our workplace. These computer-based courses are aimed at educating employees on how to properly engage people with disabilities. These are useful resources, but they don’t reach every employee of every business in Ontario. Moreover, watching a training video and passing a quiz doesn’t change a person’s attitude toward disability.
Subtle Forms of Ableism
There are also more subtle forms of ableism that aren’t something you can realistically legislate or enforce. The attitudes and behaviors that can come from family, friends and strangers alike. Do any of these sound familiar?
- A loved one keeps expressing “it’s just easier if I do it for you”
- A stranger, as you park in an accessible space, belts out “you don’t look like you’re disabled”
- You’re excluded from an activity by friends or family because “there will be a lot of walking”
- Your friends would love to have you join them, but no one is available to give you a ride
- Hearing statements of false equivalency such as “I know how you feel, I broke my arm/leg in high school”
Let’s be clear, it’s not only the able-bodied people that are guilty of ableism either. After all, making judgments or assumptions about someone’s abilities do not require a person to be able-bodied, now does it? It’s not uncommon, for example, to hear stories about amputees being accosted for using accessible parking by people with more visible disabilities. Even within our community of amputees, this sort of behavior can be seen simply because we lose the perspective of other people’s experiences.
What Can We Do?
It’s frustrating, it’s annoying, and everyone in society would serve well to be more informed and have their actions reflect that. Anger isn’t the answer though, action is. While indifference is hard to conquer, ignorance and insecurity are arguably the most common drivers of this behavior. These can be addressed through education and advocacy. As amputees, we can work together to show the strength and vitality of our community. We can defeat the attitude that we are somehow “less than” because we are limb different. Together, we can reset the standard for what is considered normal living while still fighting for our right to access a world that able-bodied people take for granted. We can also advocate for our community by encouraging provincial legislators to improve our laws to make our province more inclusive for people of all ability levels. After reading this, have you experienced a form of ableism? What have you done to try to educate those who you feel have shown prejudice?
Amputee Coalition of Toronto welcomes all amputees in Ontario and the surrounding GTA to join our support group for more information on monthly meetups, upcoming events, and a safe space to share your journey. We’re in this together!