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February 25, 2019 | by  | in Token Cripple |
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Token Cripple

I was nine years old when I made my best friend promise she would never treat me differently, even if I was one day in a wheelchair. I was 13 years old when a mother at school camp told me that I shouldn’t have bothered to attempt a physical activity—though I had been unable to complete it, it was one that I had wanted to try. I was 15 years old when a strange man on the street commented, “That’s a funny walk you got there, Miss.” And I was probably about 16 years old when I first came across the word which made everything else make sense:

 

Ableism; discrimination in favour of able-bodied people.

 

My name is Alice—and no, there was not one moment I thought of calling this column, “Alice’s Wonderland”. While I am a carbon copy of every other student at Victoria (From Auckland? Tick. Studies Law, Film, and Sociology? Tick. Constantly annoys others and herself because of that fact? Tick.) I am different in one way: I have a disability. When ex-student Henrietta Bollinger stopped studying at the university, it was also the end of her column, which went by the same name. I asked for her blessing to pick up the column for 2019, because I think the voice of the disabled community is one that is so important, yet so overlooked. And why, you may ask, do I think it’s so important to continue this conversation?

 

Well, before 16-year-old me had her epiphany, I was probably just like you. I believed that discrimination against the disabled was just not widespread enough of an issue to warrant its own word. It was certainly not like sexism, racism, homophobia, or any other ideology based on hate and ignorance. Sure, everyone knew you shouldn’t be mean to the kid in the wheelchair (even if he was an absolute dick) but this was a belief stemmed from pity, not equality.

You see, I had no word to articulate why I didn’t want people telling me how “inspiring” I am (especially not after witnessing me vomit my guts up in a sink after too much rum). I had no word for why I didn’t want to be congratulated for academic success more than others might be. I had no word to articulate why there was something inherently wrong with the Divergent book series equating courage with physical strength, or the fact that disabled kids were missing from every movie ever. I felt like I was hopelessly screaming into the void—little old me trying to take on the world by myself (a bit narcissistic, really).

But then I found it. Ableism. It was like a sigh of relief. An “oh thank fuck I’m not imagining things”. To me, learning that ableism was something that a whole community of people were fighting against was empowering. It legitimised my anger and gave strength to my rants and rambles. And, yet, it’s not a word we commonly use—despite the amount of ableism still prevalent in society.

In a world of “PC GONE MAD!” and growing social awareness for minorities, it’s interesting to me that so few people are aware of the issues facing the disabled community. I’m not excluded from this collective ignorance: every day I learn something new; I am faced with my own prejudices and am baffled by how unaware I am of issues which don’t immediately affect me. But that doesn’t mean I stop trying to speak up. I just remember that for every time I speak up, I should also shut up (the one thing I struggle more with than stairs) so that I can read more, listen more, and learn more from those writing about these issues and others. You should too. Read my column (self-plug? I don’t care), express anger about the broken lifts at Victoria University, and make 2019 your year of enlightenment.

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