Disability is often overlooked in the quest for wokeness.
Race, class, gender, sexual orientation are often more readily apparent than disability, carry far less stigma, are a lot sexier and even come with a rainbow! It makes sense to pay attention to disability, though: it’s powerful intersection between all things (race, class, gender, sexual orientation), and of course, is the only minority group anyone can join any day.
If you have not been exposed to much (or any) disability in your life, however, it’s probably something of a head-scratcher to figure out how to be an ally to people with disabilities.
Here are some tips.
How to Be an Ally to People with Disabilities:
The conversation isn’t about you.
Being a good disability ally often means not being included in that conversation. If you feel uncomfortable and excluded (because you are able bodied), you should own those feelings. Don’t get defensive, seek the spotlight, or make this about you.
Listen, and only listen.
Amplifying (by retweeting, sharing, forwarding) is a great way to participate while not taking up space or making it about you or your opinions about a subject that’s not about you.
2. Open Your Eyes
Challenge yourself as you move through your day and are exposed to popular culture (- magazines in the checkout stand, movies, TV) to see how often someone with a disability is featured, especially in a way that is not meant to inspire an able-bodied person (“they did this, so my reason for not doing it is invalid!” – read more on “Inspiration Porn”).
Digest how we are represented – or not represented at all. Understand where we are coming from as we reach for visibility, justice, and our right to live in this world.
3. Take it Home
Take what you learn about ableism back home.
That is, take it back to your own spaces, your work, your home, your community, your able-bodied spaces.
Stop others who you hear perpetuating ableist language, practices, beliefs or imagery. Call people on what they say, on what they post and/or on their actions.
Talk to other able-bodied people about ableism, keep broadening people’s ideas and understanding on what it means to have a disability.
4. Teach your children
Start talking with your children about ableism, racism, social systems and structures while they are young. Don’t wait until a problem or situation rears up.
5. Read Up
There are a lot of books out there on disability culture, on the disability rights movement, about disability in the world and in the United States.
Understand where we are coming from, our history, struggles, where we are going.
Join a disability book club, head for your local library, keep broadening your understanding of disability – as a culture, movement and particular ways of experiencing the world.
6. Stand With Us
There is so much going on right now that all of us with disabilities have to perpetually fight for.
Healthcare, education, our right to simply be alive and free from abuse.
Stay with us.
Hold space with us. Stand with us when we need you to and join us in our fight for an equitable, accessible world.
Remember: this fight is ultimately your fight, as disability is the one minority group in the world in which anyone can join at any time. Joining us in our fight for access and rights now may ultimately ensure that you have rights yourself if or when you join us in having a disability yourself.
Disability Blogs (Blogs By People with Disabilities)
The podcast episode is below and the downloadable PDF is linked here and in button below (just click it: it will take you to Gumroad, where it will say “name a fair price” or something like that – feel free to put 0 in the box (and you can feel free to pay for it too – really, it’s all good and I won’t be hurt!). After you enter a number, it will take you to the next screen where you enter your email address for the download. I do not store your email address and I won’t bug you after – this is NOT a bait-and-switch thing where I say “free download” just to get your email address then harass you. NOPE! The system will then automatically send you the PDF to download via your email).
Meriah Nichols is a career counselor. Solo mom to 3 (one with Down syndrome, one gifted 2E). Deaf, with C-PTSD and TBI, she’s also a gardening nerd who loves cats, Star Trek, and takes her coffee hot and black.