Normally I write motivational pieces for Motivation Monday, but this month I decided we need to talk about internalized ableism. I will preface this with the fact that I am disabled. I am an autistic male who also has pots and is epileptic. I walk with a cane on most days. I also am asthmatic and ADHD. These are all disabilities. This topic is important, not just because it applies to me though, many of you will know someone who is disabled. Let’s begin.
What is Ableism Anyway?
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, ableism is defined as “discrimination or prejudice against individuals with disabilities.” It is the belief that being disabled is inferior to abled people. It rarely plays out as blatantly as other discrimination, but it is seen in things such as ramps being hard to access. It was seen in Sia’s portrayal of Autism in her recent movie. It is shown along with misogyny in how doctors dismiss afabs medical conditions as nothing more than weight or hormones.
Ableism is all around us. We take part in it when we use words like r*tard or lame. We participate in it when we imply that our children or friends are lazy or crazy. We keep it alive when we challenge people who do not appear disabled for parking in disabled parking or using disabled bathrooms. When we argue for first person language because we can’t see a disabled person as a person without reminding ourselves, that is ableism.
What About Internalized Ableism?
Internalized ableism is of course a byproduct of ableism. Many disabled people do not realize they can be ableist against themselves. I often read in social media comments from disabled people extremely ableist and self-defeating comments. Things like “I am too stupid and disabled to be anything.” One that got me riled up was “I don’t function as ‘blank’ age.” Mental age is ableist it denies a person agency just like denying being disabled denies a person accommodations.
When I say ableism isn’t just for the abled, this is what I mean. When you tell yourself that you are lazy, undeserving, or faking your disability, you are taking part in the oppression of disabled people. Of course, that is not the only way internalized ableism exists.
You can also internalize ableism by denying you are disabled. Many in the autism community are very ableist because they continue to cling to functioning labels and person first identity. This is harmful to the entire community.
How Do You Counter Internalized Ableism?
When you grow up with everyone either treating you as “inspirational” or as “invisible” how do you counter the now internalized messages of being only worth what you can do? The answer is pretty simple, and I already wrote about it: Radical Acceptance. You can read about radical acceptance here .
There are steps I took to get to this radical acceptance. I joined Autism Acceptance groups; I found community. I read all I could on the various disabilities I had. I talked about it and now I am writing about it. Basically, to reach acceptance, you must educate yourself on disability. In the links below, which are both sources and further reading, I will link one post that discusses more in depth how to work with internalized ableism.
And I end with the quote from my other blog post: “Acceptance means we are less likely to force ourselves through the day and accommodate ourselves better.” Better Mondays are Motivated Mondays!
Want to read more about this subject?
Read Erica’s post Pushing Back Against Internalized Ableism: The Only Way Out is Through (link) https://rootedinrights.org/pushing-back-against-internalized-ableism-the-only-way-out-is-through/
The Mighty: https://themighty.com/2020/08/internalized-ableism-experiences/
Carrie’s Post Five Strategies: https://www.autostraddle.com/telling-myself-the-truth-5-strategies-for-fighting-internalized-ableism-350528/
And the most in-depth (IMO) Rea Strawhill’s Post: https://www.reastrawhill.com/post/what-is-internalized-ableism-and-what-can-we-do-to-overcome-it