Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Why It's Still Okay to Hate People with Disabilities

I want you to read this.

I want you to read these words and see what living in this world is like not for individuals with disabilities, but for everyone else. I want you to see how your world shapes you over time, in subtle and overt ways, to see us.

The comments above were found on a post of a customer service stories website, in response to a story about a grocery store bagger with Down's syndrome. What shocked me wasn't that someone would so openly admit to hating and fearing individuals with disabilities, but that there was another comment below it echoing similar sentiments (not pictured). Had these commenters said that they hate black people, or gay people, and believe they should be wiped out, there would have been tremendous outrage. But threats to the lives of disabled people are met with barely a shrug.

It is comments like these that enable people to feel this way: One person voices their thoughts, and it empowers the many who are silent to speak up in agreement. Initial hesitation disappears in the face of validation, and soon these voices grow louder, bolder, united in their common fear of anyone who is not like them. Their voices become a roar, eyes large and furious, teeth gnashing, forcing their way into the minds and hearts of those who live with disabilities.

As a young autistic girl, the only thing that made life more difficult than thinking my peers hated me was how I hated myself. No one had to tell me that all disabled people should be wiped out; I came to believe it myself, with thoughts of suicide beginning when I was in the fourth grade. For years, I eschewed the label of "autism" and clung desperately to Asperger's Syndrome, believing it somehow made me better than those who were more affected, more "obvious." I didn't want to be perceived the way I knew they were: As being stupid, retarded, deficient.


I know now that my feelings were borne not out of hatred, but from incredible self-loathing. I have confronted the prejudices that I never intended to have and overcome them. Obvious or not, "high functioning" or not, we are all the same in the eyes of those who feel as these commenters do. They make assertions about who we are, what we love, how we live, the very core of our souls based on the category they place us into: "Acceptably" (not visibly) and "unacceptably" (visibly) disabled.

I want you to read these words.

I want you to decide if they sound like something you've ever thought, or said when you thought no one who would care was around. I want you to think about disabled children and adults who have suffered and continue to suffer because these attitudes are held by people in positions of power. I want you to understand that our pain is not the price for your comfort.

You can ignore your prejudices and the damage they cause, or you can face them and try to make a change for the better, both for yourself, and for individuals with disabilities all over the world.

Which do you choose?