We've all heard of racism, sexism, ageism... but what about diablism? It is not a term most of us think about unless we happen to run in the same crowds with people who have disabilities. Discriminating against someone because of their different abilities is the same incredible injustice as discriminating against someone because of the color of their skin, their gender or their age. All types of discrimination can result in the loss of dignity for another person.
As ridiculous as it is to pass judgement on a person due to their appearance, judging a person due to their disability seems to be quietly kind of ok. Why? Why would it be any different? It isn't. It does happen all of the time and most of us are even guilty of it ourselves, no matter how unintentional. Is it ignorance? Is it inexperience? Is it that we are afraid of people that have challenges that are different than our own? It is so many things. Most people do not intentionally try to hurt others. We just need to realize that people with disabilities are like anyone else - you don't know them until you KNOW THEM!
Have you ever met someone and passed judgement on them immediately, only to get to know them later and find that you were completely wrong about them? Then someone else meets them and passes that same judgement you had, and you cannot believe you ears? How could anyone think that about this person? This is the kind of thing that we need to keep on the forefront of our minds. I once met a very intimidating and scary looking man. He wore all black and had piercings and tattoos everywhere. I thought that for sure he and I could have nothing in common, and I probably would have peed my pants had I met him on the street alone at night. However, after a very short conversation, I found out that he was a kindergarten teacher and that his son had a disability. Obviously, after that, we could have talked for hours! He probably looked at me and saw a young girl (19 at the time), beyond preppy, and about as clean-cut as a person can get, what would he have in common with me? Ahhh, but I was going to school to become a teacher and I was working at a camp for people who have disabilities and.... we had a lot in common. Such a simple story, and not deep at all, but it illustrates how we pass judgements all of the time without knowing a person. The old "Don't judge a book by its cover" thing. Anyway as much as you keep it in your forefront, it still creeps up.
While working at a camp for people with disabilities I learned many things and not to judge was a BIG one. The campers would come to this sleep-away camp for a week at a time. Every week was different. A different age group (kids, teens, adults); a different set of disabilities (cognitive, physical, hearing impaired, or specific like Muscular Dystrophy or Neurofibromatosis). Sunday night, the camp counselors would receive a short "history" on each of the participants that were to be in their group for the week. The history labeled their disability, and told of their special needs, and any goals that they or their parents would like to see them working on. Each week, I'd read those and think, What??? How am I supposed to play catch with someone who is blind, nonverbal, has severe cognitive and physical impairments and uses a wheelchair? How am I supposed to teach someone to ride a horse who cannot bend their legs? How am I supposed to... keep track of someone who has a 5 second attention span and LOVES to run?
Then as the campers arrived and I saw them, all of my worries and fears crept up again and I couldn't understand how any of this would be possible. Then their parents left, and we sat down in a circle to introduce ourselves, talk about our upcoming week and come up with a group name. Slowly my judgements slipped away. By the end of the first night, we were a group, a team, a little family for the week. By the end of the next night I knew these people even better and we'd crack jokes and play games and listen and learn and teach each other. By the end of the week, they were very close and dear to me and I would cry when they had to go home. These were my friends or my students or my peers, we all had our idiosyncrasies and we learned to live together and enjoy each other and respect each other as people. As we should.
And what of playing catch with someone who is blind and has so many other challenges in life? Totally doable! Somehow this particular camper turned out to be one of my most favorite people. Somehow though, nonverbal, he was very funny! Somehow, though blind, he could recognize me. Somehow he was able to let me know that we were friends. Somehow we sat on the couch (while everyone else watched a movie) and played and wrestled and were silly even though he had physical disabilities and needed his wheelchair to get around. Somehow, he showed me that I didn't want to be a journalist or marine biologist, or physical therapist, or nurse, or anything else. Somehow he let me know that my true love and passion would be as a special education teacher.
I have so many important memories from my years at that camp, and all of them are wonderful. I had never taken the opportunity to get to know someone with a disability before because they made me nervous and honestly I'd start to feel a little queasy. Now I know LOUD and CLEAR, you don't know anyone until you get to know them!
Today, you can read many many blog posts about diablism. Some are written by people who have experienced it first hand... each post will make you think. Each post will open your eyes. Each post will inspire you in a different way. Please take time to read these, either today or this week or sometime. And if you want more.... check out last year's BADD posts. A few that caught my attention are here:
Thank you Diary of a Goldfish, for putting this together. It is very important for all of us "temporarily able-bodied" people to learn from these posts today.