By Stephen Kuusisto
“Well what do you want?” asks the ableist.
“We have to weigh your request for assistance against all the other non-disabled people’s requests.”
The ableist is in her forties, young enough to know better, was educated at a university, must have come into contact with feminism. Surely knows about equality. That’s the rub. She knows and has decided she doesn’t care.
Educated ableism is the worst.
I can take the cab driver in (name your city) who’s country of origin has no “out and about” disabled. He sees a man, dressed rather professionally (suit and tie, even pants…) who happens to be blind—who’s traveling with a professionally trained dog, and he’s never seen such a thing. Never. For the cabbie, the very idea of a successful, self-navigating, fully engaged blind person is without analogy. He decides to drive away, leaving the man and dog to contemplate what’s now called “micro-aggression”.
Ah, but educated ableism is absolutely the worst.
Yesterday a student at Syracuse University, who shall remain unidentified, told me how she was recently humiliated by a professor. She’s an autist. She has to wear headphones—Bose noise cancellation headphones. There are moments when the world is too much with her. It doesn’t matter where she is. She needs a break.
She put on her Bose in the midst of a lecture.
The professor accosted her, even though she has letters on her person from the Office of Disability Services explaining her accommodation.
Educated ableism is the worst.
The educated ableist believes he or she is freed from having to ask questions.
Such freedom does not generally exist in the worlds of ideas, so the assumption, the grand self-absorbed interior contract that an educated ableist must make is highly solipsistic fiction.
Some days I walk across campus, and here I mean any campus for I travel widely, speak at all kinds of colleges and universities, and recognize how sculpted and interiorized are faculty who stare at me as I approach on sidewalks. They think because I’m blind I can’t see them staring, taking their surveys, driving their educated projectionist ableism into my thorax with their eyes.
“Here’s another clue for you all…” The blind can tell you’re staring.
They can tell you’re sizing them up or down.
I have plenty of academic colleagues who size me down.
And yes, of course there are plenty who don’t.
Yet, I expect more from academic administrators, professors, even the meter maid.
Now, the educated ableist is bad, no question. But there are still worse things.
For instance, there’s the disabled faculty member who likes to “rank” on other disabled people.
My black colleagues know this biz. It’s the old, “are you black enough” thing.
In the disability world, where there are all too few faculty with disabilities, and accordingly you’d think they would work tightly together, one can encounter the professor who thinks his or her way of navigating or advocating for disability is not only superior to other methods, but is so far superior that (insert topic here) is beneath acknowledgment.
You know what I mean. “I was “on” this issue of accessible widgets long before you were. I’m a better disabled person than you…”
Ableism within the disability community. Imagine that.
It’s a long road to Tipperary.
Tipperary is my code word for dignified, universal, respectful inclusion.
“It’s a long way to go…”