I will admit that I haven’t had too many issues dealing with ableism. However, it’s an experience that everyone dealing with a chronic illness (visible or invisible) or a disability has had to deal with at some point. Emotions can range from moderate annoyance to incredibly frustrating depending on the situation. At work in the past I’ve been up front about my health, which also acted as a preventative measure against ableism. But ableism (like sexism, racism, ageism, and for forth) can happen anytime and anywhere. So how can we deal with it?
My recent experience actually happened at my apartment building. I was carrying three grocery bags and waiting for the one elevator in the building. Because of Covid it’s just one person in the elevator at a time (unless you live together) which totally makes sense. Now, I’m young and obviously my health issues are invisible, but also I was carrying three very full grocery bags and had walked ten minutes with them already. I live only two floors up so I do often take the stairs when I’m able. And the building is only four floors total. Well, this young guy comes in from outside, sees me waiting for the elevator and then says, “even if it weren’t Covid, I would take the stairs.” And then he proceeded to take the stairs. Now, there is a chance he wasn’t making a comment about me taking the elevator, but I certainly took it that way. I would say I was moderately annoyed, because again, even if I was totally okay I was holding groceries!
I feel like there are two approaches to take with this kind of scenario and it really depends on the specifics of the situation.
- I can let it go: This means realizing that while this guy should not have commented, he probably didn’t know any better. Does that make it okay? No, but sometimes there isn’t a chance to do #2. Part two of this answer is that I can regulate my emotions well enough to not be upset by one simple interaction. If I was running into this guy every day and he kept saying similar things, that might be different. I can choose to take this one incident to heart or not.
- It’s time to educate the other person: Again, this depends on the situation. Is there going to be enough time? Will the person be open to listening? Is the setting appropriate? And so on. However, I think this is an important thing to do when possible. “Sometimes people who look healthy have invisible illnesses or disabilities. How familiar are you with that?” I’m sure this is not the best worded example of what to say (feel free to comment better ones!) but you get the picture. Take back the power in a respectful way!
The truth is, any time of “-ism” will not disappear unless the community (both those directly effected and those not effected/allies) stand up to it!
I also, want to take a moment to let everyone know that I was recently a guest on a podcast called BeFun BeKind. Check out my appearance here, where I talk about self-acceptance. Until next week, keep making the most of it!