Overcoming Ableism | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Overcoming Ableism


Laurie Bertram Roberts

When my twins were diagnosed with autism at age 2, I did what most parents do: I learned how to advocate for my kids. As a teen mom, it was an uphill battle. I had to overcome people's assumptions about what my daughters couldn't do, and about my capabilities as well. Over the years, I have learned so much about autism spectrum disorders, disability rights and ableism.

If you aren't familiar with the term ableism, it is discrimination against people who have disabilities—a preference for the so-called able bodied, if 
you will.

I recently realized that I am ableist. I found out the hard way by losing my ability to walk unassisted at all times. Even though I spent years saying and believing that I see people with visible and invisible disabilities as equal, when I joined their ranks in a visible way, I wasn't just angry at my loss of independence. I was angry at being seen as one of them.

I didn't want people to stare at me to ask questions about why I have trouble walking. My instinct was to hide and wait for day. I didn't need to look disabled. I wanted to look attractive because, of course, I couldn't be both attractive and walk with a cane.

So there it was in the back of my mind hiding: the assumptions so many of us make about people using assistive devices. The more my mobility suffered, the more I wondered if my family could still love me now that I was broken.

See, ableism allows us to think of people who have disabilities as broken, child-like or not fully like the rest of us. It is the ugly unspoken oppression that often goes unnoticed until it's personal. I have a new perspective now.

I never had to think of whether places had hand railings, places to sit while I wait in line, and a host of other things that now go into my planning on the days I need to use my cane or shop with a scooter. Accessibility has new meaning when you need it.

I learned that I am not exempt from the programming we have all been subject to. No matter the form of oppression we suffer—racism, ableism, homophobia or another—it is OK to process it, learn, forgive ourselves and move forward. Fighting small- and large-scale oppression is an ongoing process. My greatest lesson is that my illness doesn't stop the show. I'm still my gorgeous self. A cane, scooter or wheelchair will never change that.

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