Ableism and me

Thanks to Emma Crees, Writer in a Wheelchair for giving me, over the years, occasion to think about ableism and me.

And in all honesty, I haven’t, much, except in relation to the obvious political footballs: austerity, poverty, dearth of ambition. But, in much the same way as our current social expectation is geared towards masculinity – football all weekend, failing which rugby, tennis, golf, or beach volleyball – for the women – and that contradiction, the blonde, female sports rapporteur – much able-ism goes under the radar, or is simply accepted, tolerated and excused.

But here’s the thing: Why?

In my faith community – to which, I regret, I am now a rare visitor – I have made two requests to help that have stood out in my mind. The first, to wash dishes, was very politely refused because, I was told, the kitchen would be very busy and they needed someone who could carry dishes from the washer and stack them, carry plates and so forth. The implication being that I would make more work for them instead of helping them, and therefore, it would be better if I did not get involved.

The second occasion was when I asked, “What I would have to do to qualify for an in-house shift at one of the larger Quaker centres?” The kind of shifts in which it is expected that members staying for a week to assist with the hospitality, will act in a welcoming, sharing capacity, helping visitors to feel at ease. It was suggested that, since the friend in residence would be expected to carry suitcases, perhaps it would not suit me. After I got home, I wrote to query this, and received no reply.

So, is “Health and Safety” now to be used to exclude persons who wish to participate? I fully recognise that, if I ask to “help” in areas where it is more usual for the able-bodied to do so, it is probable that someone else may need to help me to help them. So, am I therefore to be excluded from giving my ha’penny worth? That seems a trifle harsh.

It is hard – sometimes very hard – for a person with impairments to get up any enthusiasm for joining in. Not only is the able-bodied world peculiarly blind to the challenges faced by those with impairments – “It’s self-service, just fetch a plate and come along…” – but it can be difficult to leave the small comfort zone of passivity that those of us with impairments have marked out for ourselves. A comfort zone which, if I am typical, is made up of equal parts of consolation and despair: Not very life enhancing.

So, joining in, and feeling encouraged to join in, will be exceptionally life-enhancing to one whose usual world is four walls of a room, the bleak car-park or the limitations of a predictable, supermarket shop. Given the sheer appreciation and delight we feel when being encouraged to participate, do organisations that encourage volunteering not see the value in a buddying system that encourages that? Or is that hope of extra care deluded and unhelpful?

It does seem to me that “inclusion” must embrace all sorts and abilities, even if that means making an extra effort for that to be possible. If we are to have an accurate reflection of what “society” means we must encourage those of us who are reluctant to leave their living-rooms to get outside and live a little.

Thanks for listening.

Please share: