Editor’s note: This is K.W. Ramsey’s debut post with the Spoonie Authors Network. Welcome to the family!
Until a couple years ago, I’d never heard the word ableism, never mind examining how I might have internalized it in myself. You see, I was born in the ’70s, when the idea of being disabled was anathema, and no one thought of society as ableist.
When I was born, you didn’t ask the world to change when it didn’t fit you. No, you compressed, stretched, hammered, and strained yourself to fit it, no matter what damage you did to yourself.
You didn’t ask for pity from anyone.
You overcame the obstacles in your life.
You didn’t ask for them to be torn down.
It was ableism in action.
My parents raised me to be polite, to not make a fuss and sit quietly in the corner, thus unknowingly causing me to internalize ableism almost from the moment I arrived. I believed, for the longest time, that I shouldn’t, couldn’t, advocate for myself and for barriers to be removed.
That internalized ableism was so bad, it wasn’t until a year and a half ago I finally obtained orthotic support inserts for my shoes. The knee pain I’d experienced had become so bad, I was dosing with painkillers every day and resigned myself to a future of pain management and limited mobility.
I should have received the orthotics years ago, should have begged and harassed my parents to spend the money when I was a teen rather than holding out until after I turned forty. So much pain, and who knows what damage, all because I didn’t feel worth it?
This isn’t to say I blame my parents. Ultimately, the responsibility to advocate for my well-being now falls on my shoulders and has for years. Resenting them when they grew up trapped in the same ableist society as I did is counter-productive at this point.
Of course, dealing with internalized ableism isn’t just about me and my problems. The other side of the coin is, how much damage have I caused, how many people have I hurt through my words and actions filtered through my internalized ableism?
I’ll probably never know.
It’s important to me that I examine my reactions to discussions about disability, in all its myriad forms, before I open my mouth and say something unfortunate (I almost used the word “stupid” there—thanks internalized ableism). A prime example is the conversation around the phrase “blind spot” that’s cropped up in some circles recently. My first reaction about people calling this ableist was, “What are they talking about?” It’s a phrase I’ve heard my whole life, the idea being it’s an area we don’t notice or think about, hence being “blind” to it.
Equating the term “blind spot” to being clueless is ableist, as a kind friend pointed out to me. What I need to concern myself with is why my initial gut reaction to the conversation about it was to dismiss it as whining. That’s where my internalized ableism has reared its head and what I need to focus on.
I wish I could say all I need to do is say to myself, “You need to stop being ableist,” and that would fix everything, both in how I advocate for myself and how I react to others pointing out possible ableism. If it was that simple, I’d have done it long ago. This is an ongoing process I’m going to be wrangling for the rest of my life.
That isn’t an excuse for when I fail, merely a promise to try and be better. It’s what I, we, owe the universe—to tear down the barriers in ourselves and in the world.
K.W. Ramsey had The Hobbit read to him a chapter at a time as a child, dooming him to be fascinated by stories for his entire life and to become a fantasy writer of short fiction. Living in Southern Ontario, he spends his days helping the technologically challenged and his nights dreaming of other worlds. Find him on Twitter as @KWRamsey and on his website!