Ableism is: Two Basic Readings

Today I’m part of a workshop on how Dominican might develop more curriculum around ableism. I’ll be talking for about 5 minutes on my basic definitions of ableism – focusing on violence – and then participating for a few hours in a group effort to propose a set of linked classes. It’s just the start of what I hope becomes a real institutional effort to engage with ableism throughout our curriculum.

It’s a new conversation. Usually, conversations around disability on my campus are about disability ON my campus, not the major societal individual and structural acts of discrimination that cause so much hardship, and I’m very much looking forward to the collaboration.

Here are my two basic readings from two of my favorite autistic , one new, one old.

1. Lydia Brown: Ableism is not “bad words.” It’s violence

Brown writes, in the wake of Sagamihara –
The Sagamihara attacker was targeting the disabled residents of the institution.
He told police, “I want to get rid of the disabled from this world.”
Don’t you ever fucking dare try to say, “but who could hate the disabled?” to me again.
Don’t. Dare.
We are not some innocent angels untouched by the realities of the world around us.
We are not unaware or oblivious to the existence of others, let alone of hate.
We know hate and we know violence, because it is written on our bodies and our souls.
We bear it, heavy, wherever we go. Ableism is the violence in the clinic, in the waiting room, in the social welfare lines, in the classroom, in the recess yard, in the bedroom, in the prisons, in the streets. Ableism is the violence (and threat of violence) we live with each day.

Language is part of ableism, just as language is part of racism, sexism, anti-LGBT ideologies, and more. But in the end, the language leads towards violence of all sorts.

2. Julia Bascom: Quiet Hands

1.When I was a little girl, they held my hands down in tacky glue while I cried.
2.I’m a lot bigger than them now. Walking down a hall to a meeting, my hand flies out to feel the texture on the wall as I pass by.
“Quiet hands,” I whisper.
My hand falls to my side.
3.When I was six years old, people who were much bigger than me with loud echoing voices held my hands down in textures that hurt worse than my broken wrist while I cried and begged and pleaded and screamed.
4.In a classroom of language-impaired kids, the most common phrase is a metaphor.
“Quiet hands!”
A student pushes at a piece of paper, flaps their hands, stacks their fingers against their palm, pokes at a pencil, rubs their palms through their hair. It’s silent, until:
“Quiet hands!”
I’ve yet to meet a student who didn’t instinctively know to pull back and put their hands in their lap at this order. Thanks to applied behavioral analysis, each student learned this phrase in preschool at the latest, hands slapped down and held to a table or at their sides for a count of three until they learned to restrain themselves at the words.
The literal meaning of the words is irrelevant when you’re being abused.

We’re just at the start of our conversation on ableism – not just at Dominican, but globally – as it moves from within disability communities into broader discourse. Curriculum can be part of that.


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