Ableist Remarks and Alternatives in the Workplace
In March, two of the critical parts of my identity got to be celebrated simultaneously in the public sphere. March was both Women’s History Month and National Cerebral Palsy (CP) Month; so step into the sacred feminine and embrace the warm green light of CP. It's time for a little truth telling. Existing as a disabled woman in the workplace, we face any number of barriers to getting our jobs done but none more painful and avoidable than the ignorance of our peers.
Whether they’re cruising the cube farm looking for an interesting soul to engage with or a DM pops up on Slack, co-workers might be grasping at straws for ways to connect and then simultaneously fall back on outdated tropes and ableist narratives, because that is all they have ever been shown and it’s what they are comfortable with. Stepping outside your comfort zone is terrifying for most people. But, it makes life highly uncomfortable for those of us who are just trying to enjoy our own lives.
The following remarks have been said to me in work situations. The alternatives I offer are just examples of how to be an ally versus a “well-meaning” ableist.
“It’s so great that they gave you this job!”
The saving grace when I heard this was that I kept my monologue on the inside. Because scathing was an understatement. This statement could be construed as well-meaning or catty. But it intimates that the disabled employee didn’t earn their job but was given it out of benevolence. A better comment to make is “Welcome to the company!”
“I didn’t know you could walk!”
If it wouldn’t be said to a non-disabled person, don’t say it to a disabled person. With that said, never comment on disabled people’s presenting different abilities. We’re neither puppies nor show ponies. If you’re not actively engaged in our physical or occupational therapies or we don’t bring it up, keep it to yourself.
“Who takes care of you/your kids?”
This one made my blood boil as an adult and as a parent. If you wouldn’t ask a non-disabled person, don’t ask a disabled person. It both intimates infantilization and ineffectiveness. I can’t stress this enough: whether the individual performs the hands-on care themselves, gets help from family and friends, or employs a personal care attendant, they arrange and direct their own care.
“How fast does that go? BEEP BEEP! Don’t run me over!”
I will always answer genuine inquiries about my scooter, but comments like this are met with anything from derision to confrontation based on the time, place and how I’m feeling at the moment. Stop and be thoughtful; what is amusing to you might be rote, overused and at best grating. If you like my wheels, say “nice wheels”…It’s much more respectful and appreciated.
“You’re such an inspiration!”
In a meeting, at a restaurant, on the train, I breathe and I’m inspiring someone. Frustration abounds the most when I’ve come from an inclusive event where I feel seen for who I am versus what I’m sitting in while doing something mundane like grabbing an espresso. I’m not saying “Don’t see the chair”; my wheels are my liberation. Work on seeing the whole person. You can also just say hello without the deep, meaningful discourse.
This list isn’t finite and doesn’t speak for all disabled women, but it’s a jumping off point for a bigger conversation on how to create a more inclusive workplace, where asking for accommodations isn’t intimidating. It all starts with having more positive conversations surrounding disability.
NDEAM celebrates both the past and present contributions of workers with disabilities in America. Importantly, NDEAM serves as a mechanism through which supportive and inclusive employment practices and policies for all workers, especially those who have a disability(s) can be showcased, advocated for, and encouraged.
Growing up with an invisible disability has taught me that there are some people who are ignorant, unaware they are exhibiting audist behaviors. It’s because the hearing person has never met a deaf person before and will try to walk away because they don’t know how to interact with them. People who don’t feel comfortable have a tendency to get away from something so they don’t have to deal with it. That can be frustrating for deaf people.
Empathy is something that I believe is truly lacking in today’s society. “It’s gotten harder to empathize; that’s why it’s so important we work at it. Luckily, we can.” says Jamil Zaki in this UC Berkley article, 'In a Divided World, We Need to Choose Empathy'. The article discusses the hard truths surrounding empathy, supported by real-life examples and proven facts about how it can help us all.
I will never forget November 19th, 2019. My new rheumatologist broke the news this way: “I bet you have been told your entire life that your weight was the cause of your back pain. I want you to know it wasn’t, although weight loss can certainly help. We see the damage, and you were right - you have Ankylosing Spondylitis.”
As the weather heats up and we feel the urge to travel, I want to share some tips that have helped me keep my anxiety at bay while away from home. Many mental health illnesses flare up when we are away from home because we are naturally out of our comfort zone.
Existing as a disabled woman in the workplace, we face any number of barriers to getting our jobs done but none more painful and avoidable than the ignorance of our peers.
I knew I was an actor before I knew I was Autistic. I started acting at 11 years old, but I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 22.
There are many misconceptions about the lives of those of us who live with CP. I hope to help someone who may be living, loving, or just learning about Cerebral Palsy.
While many of us know the benefits of closed captions, many Zoom users still have not enabled closed captions. While this used to only be offer to 'paid' Zoom accounts, the company announced earlier this year that closed captions would be available to all Zoom users, regardless of plan type.