Society has a problem. A problem with anomalies. As soon as you deviate from what society sees as the norm, you are closed out. This does not always happen consciously, or with wrong intentions. Yet it causes problems for people. The world of man is made by the majority, or at least by the people who have appropriated power. Minorities, the deviations, have (as the name implies) less to contribute.
Sometimes people talk about ableism, but what does it actually mean?
Ableism (/ˈeɪbəlɪzəm/; also known as ablism, disablism (Brit. English), anapirophobia, anapirism, and disability discrimination) is discrimination and social prejudice against people with disabilities or who are perceived to have disabilities. Ableism characterizes persons as defined by their disabilities and as inferior to the non-disabled. On this basis, people are assigned or denied certain perceived abilities, skills, or character orientations.
Ableism has a strong presence within the society in which we live. The idea that people who deviate in a certain way are automatically less. It has to with the prejudices that people have. As soon as someone is told that a person they know has an anomaly, they automatically make assumptions about made the anomaly.
I think we can make comparisons with racism, something which the #BlackLivesMatter movement has put very well on the map the lately. The systematic exclusion of people by a society is not good. Although sometimes in the eyes of the ruling class needed or sometimes even desirable, doesn’t make it right. And though I’m a cis white man from average age (and thus about everywhere within “The West” to the majority of them) I deviate in 1 part from the people around me. Maybe it’s because of this that I understand very well what people are up against.
The autism stigma
I myself have a big mouth and am able to stand up to people with prejudices about autism. I realise very well that there is a stigma around autism. Neurotypical people don’t really realize what it can be like for autistic people. The incomprehension, the prejudice and the exclusion, for example. This is something that is being talked about more and more within society these days. The debate has been opened about the fact that there are people within society who are marginalized on the basis of their deviation from the norm.
It is important to listen to what the people who experience this have to say. We as a society have to realize that we are, a society together. Every human being is different, every human being is different from another. This makes society diverse and, in my opinion, beautiful. If we were all the same, life would only get boring. But we also have to live together and turn that life into something beautiful.
Fear because of the stigma
The fact is that there are a lot of prejudices about autism. In general awareness, autistic people are seen as people who cannot play a full role in society. As a result, it is sometimes very difficult for autistic people to tell their surroundings that they are autistic. They are afraid to tell their surroundings, because this will treat them differently. From one moment to the next, they belong to a minority. And that has consequences. People start looking at them differently, treating them differently. This often happens through misunderstanding and ignorance. People don’t know what autism means or what it means exactly. They only know examples of TV and movies. Something that is understandable, but (often) not correct.
Every human being is different. Autistic people are also just people, which means that every autistic person is also different. But because of the stigma surrounding autism, people have already made up their minds about an autistic person. They often refuse to look further or gather information. And that’s where I think the problem lies. People refuse to broaden and challenge their knowledge.
I have been told that there are also people who are not able to do that. But I think it’s more about not wanting to leave their “safe bubble”. People want the world to be predictable. That it works the way they think it does and that it doesn’t do unexpected things. My late diagnosis turned my world upside down. And I found out that a lot of things were different than I thought. Maybe this was my advantage, but it meant, among other things, that I had to start learning about the world again.
Not always the intention is to be ableistic. Sometimes it is even well-intentioned, out of a sense of protecting someone else. What people don’t think about is how this can come across to the people who treat them this way. A simple example is finishing sentences in stutterers. You see someone struggling to form a sentence and want to help them finish it. This is well-intentioned, you want to help, but for the stammerer it can be very annoying. Especially if you finish the wrong word. Or stop someone from talking by always interrupting their story with a supplement.
Another example is skipping someone in the distribution of tasks, just because someone has an anomaly. You might be amazed at someone’s ability if you give them a chance. Maybe somebody needs extra help to perform the task. But when that help is offered, someone can rise above the stigma and show you that they can do it. Of course, you have to be reasonable. Getting a deaf person to do a telephone interview is not really the right way to offer opportunities. But a blind person could do that task without any problems.
Autistic people are people. People whose brains work in a different way than those of neurotypical people. One problem is often that you can’t see from the outside that someone is an autistic person. Because of the stigma of society, it is not always easy for autistic people to say that they are autistic. And that causes extra problems. Which in turn causes extra stigma. Autistic people who don’t have the right tools regularly drop out of work. Many autistic people become depressed by not being understood by their surroundings. And only when they are in trouble, can no longer continue and have exploded, it becomes clear to the outside world that they are autistic. And the stigma grows again of autistic people who can’t work. Autistic people who are only depressed.
Change and healing
Changing this stigma and preventing ableism is a long, and not easy, process. It’s in the nature of the masses to take care of the masses. History is written by the victor, by the strong. The weak, the deviant, the “others” are often forgotten. Today, we see more and more that there is a counterattack. After decades of oppression and exclusion, #BlackLivesMatter in America is stronger than ever, rights are given to LGBTQIA+ people and slowly we see the success stories appearing.
But there is still a long way to go. History is written by the majority. But that’s history. It is time for people to realize that there are other people living in this world. That there are people who are different from them. Be it different by culture, way of life, orientation or disability (physical or mental). We are all human beings. We are all in this world to make the best of it.
And it’s time for the masses to listen to the minority. To give those minorities room to feel good about the whole. To have a chance to contribute, just like someone who does belong to the masses. And a good start is with yourself. Look at what you yourself think about someone who is different from yourself. And look up something about it. Google it for all I care. Look at the things you thought were right about the subject. Be curious about each other.
I’m going one step further by telling you openly and honestly about my autism. By telling the world how I look at subjects and what I think of them. In addition, I am always open to questions. If someone wants to know something about me, especially if I deviate from the masses, I try to give open and honest answers. I am in the position that I can do that safely. And my hope is that more and more people who are in some kind of minority will find the safety to do the same.
Nothing about us without us
Finally, this. Mira Thompson explains more about ableism in the (Dutch) video below: