Person in wheelchair
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IT reflects the times we live in that disabled people are stigmatised and dehumanised in society. Ableist language is used in everyday life, and even I’ve been guilty of failing on that front. So it is not my intention to shame anyone. I’m just trying to help people understand how words and phrases reinforce ableism. 

Stigma

When you joke about a disability or a disabled person, you’re harming them. Stigmatising them. Reducing them. If a disabled person constantly hears, sees and faces discrimination, they may end up believing it. The damage that can cause. We are people too, human beings with human rights. 

Image created by Dave Middleton

Understanding the difference between disablism and ableism: Disablism is discrimination or prejudice against disabled people. Ableism is discrimination in favour of non-disabled people. Both terms describe disabled discrimination, but the emphasis is different. Neither is wrong and both can be used interchangeably. 

Hate crime

Then there’s disability hate crime. When you see it, recognise it, confront it and report it.

Leonard Cheshire states that hate crimes were up by 12% in England and Wales in 2019/2020 but only 1.6% resulted in charges. Over 7,300 crimes were reported and 1 in 10 reports that all disability hate crimes are taking place online. 

It is my opinion that one of reasons for the rise in disabled hate crime is that consecutive governments have targeted the disabled community in the name of austerity with policies that have seen our rights trampled on and our benefits reduced. The government has pushed the narrative that the disabled are ‘disposable’ because, in the capitalist society and culture we live in, we are not seen as productive but as a drain on society. 

The biggest challenge to me as a disabled person and other disabled people is ableism, not my/their disability. 

This is the oppression of disabled people. We’re seen as inferior, we are not. We deserve the same rights and respect as non-disabled people. But, as we see across society, we do not have equal rights, equal opportunities or equal access. 

Disabled people are seen as helpless or a burden (such as economic drain on society). We are also more likely to be denied employment, housing and career opportunities that are afforded abled bodied people. This is based on negative misconceptions. 

Language

Most disabled people would just like everyone to make a conscious effort to improve their language. It does not mean you’re a bad person if you use a term that is the definition of ableist. We all grow and learn by listening. 

This takes me to social media and the ableism I see and experience on nearly a daily basis. Now I’m not going to post screenshots to shame anyone. I’m just going to give examples of what I’ve seen and try and break it down so you can understand why it’s ableist, and hopefully together we can build up a community to protect disabled people on line. Does this mean that some disabled people are guilty of it themselves? Unfortunately, yes it does, and we do not get a free pass. 

The most frequently ableist comment I see repeated on social media is “They’re not disabled, they are just fat”. Oh yes. Fat shaming. There are a couple of points re this disgusting and hurtful narrative. First off, those fat shaming any person can increase the risk of eating disorders from those they abuse, increasing the risk of over eating or starving themselves. Secondly, fat shaming a disabled person is the lowest of the low. Many of them are on medication that has the side effect of weight gain. Many are mobility impaired. Some desperately ill people on cancer treatment or steroid treatment put weight on. Just think about that. How lacking in morals a person has to be to fat shame a disabled person. 

The second most frequently used comment towards disabled people is ‘benefit scrounger’ or ‘grifter’. I can’t tell just how completely and utterly despicable this label is. All those people are doing is regurgitating government propaganda on alleged fraud and over-claiming to justify cuts in disability benefits. This causes resentment and abuse towards disabled people. So anyone using that term is reinforcing Tory disabled discrimination. 46% of disabled people are OAPs. Those are your grandparents or parents, who worked all their lives, being insulted. 47% of the welfare bill is in fact the state pension. That’s right, half the bill is in fact pension. A lot of disabled people choose to work from home. Many earn a living on social media. Blogging, promoting businesses and selling. Many do it in conjunction with a benefit and it is permitted. But every £1 you earn over, UC will take 63% of it. So please stop it. Stop taking away disabled people’s opportunities to participate in society and earn a small living. It’s ableist and it’s abhorrent. This can come with a threat to report people to the DWP because they’re working. Their lives are hard enough without the continued threat of having to face a DWP inquiry because some people want to silence disabled voices. 

There are also those when confronted with making continuous ableist comments who think it’s acceptable to accuse said disabled person of ‘playing victim’ and/or ‘weaponising’ their disability if they refer to themselves or family members as disabled. I personally find this quite sinister because it happens so frequently that I feel threatened by it. Why should I keep quiet about my disabilities? How am I meant to inform people what life is like for a disabled person in the U.K. without discussing it? I won’t be shut down. But if I said I felt safe on social media and not worried by these constant negative remarks, I’d be lying.

There is the usual puerile name calling. To be honest, a lot of those people are just trolling and crave attention, even if negative. I mainly just block them. Then there are others I’m honestly shocked by. For example, I am referred to by two women as ‘Aunt Lydia’ or ‘Aunt Teri’, relating to a character from The Handmaid’s Tale who is disabled from an attack, has a heavy limp and uses a walking stick. Along with the comments are offending gifs or memes to reinforce the ableist insult towards me. When I approached them and asked them to stop as it was ableist, they actually increased the tweets towards me. It was personal and meant to cause as much hurt as possible. Thus it confirmed their ableism. 

So let me state loud and clear. We are people too. We love, we laugh, we have children and families, jobs just like every other human being on the planet. You don’t have to like us personally but using our disabilities to attack disabled people is unquestionably immoral and ableist.

One thought on “Fighting back against disability stigma”
  1. Absolutely You are so Right I take the Piss out of myself a lot and I have been so through much of of the Why Me’s to cutting myself off Completely from. Friends & Workmates it’s all rolled into One.
    I admit I have referred to my Self as a Rasberry which is Rhyming Slang for a Cripple, Which could seriously hurt someone else. I have often felt shit about myself Often running myself down.no longer The Socail Secretary, can’t Drink on The Meds. So I resort to Acting the Class Clown with out considering Others, I guess I felt like I had a Free Pass.
    We are all still Human,When is it OK for us to laugh at ourselves ?
    When Disability’s are hidden or some one hasn’t Divulged.
    Should we Just Consider we could be hurting Someone else ?Maybe we need a Disabled Persons charter because let’s face it no one is going to do it for us, certainly not the As Hate Crimes Suggest. We are The very least of .gov.uks Concern aren’t we it doesn’t need to be the Length of an Enquiry Or Report that’s been Buried .
    A few Glimpses at Attitudes ,What is and what isn’t offensive? How to Make a Serious Complaint of Hate Crimes .A safety Net for When someone’s on a Downer and how we manage to fall through the Net for community Support and Rehabilitation.? What is and isn’t Acceptable? From Services ? Great Piece of Work BTW Thank you !

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