Tag Archives: discrimination

Conrad Treasury Casino streetside wheelchair pity hot spot

Wheelchair Pity

Funny things happen to me in my wheelchair. Being a quadriplegic I have no use or sensation in my hands. I slip a kind of large insulated cup onto my wrist to lift a can or small bottle of drink to my mouth. I call it my cooler. I was sitting outside of the Treasury Casino one night when a lovely woman came by and dropped a few coins into my cooler! OMG, wheelchair pity, she thought I was some kind of handicap street beggar.

I must have had a look of shock on my face. When people say, “Oh you poor thing.” I just smile and let them hold the door. I think it’s better than ignoring me. Pity is just another form of compassion after all. And sure I had a hoody on, but it was a new $140 Billabong one and my Nikes always look new. Hardly the fashion of street beggars or wheelchair pity.  I felt like asking, do I look like a bum lady?

It was after a long day of hospital check-ups, abdominal x-rays and kidney ultrasounds I have to endure each year. I like to drive my power wheelchair downtown to the casino afterwards. It’s an 8km (5 mile) trip along foothpaths and quiet back streets hugging the gutter. I zoom down bicycle paths and cross several bridges. I know the city well and like to go a different way each time to see new things.

Conrad Treasury Casino streetside wheelchair pity hot spot

The Conrad Treasury Casino wheelchair pity hot spot

We have drive through service liquor outlets. I frequent them, bars and shops along the way to renew my drink, and take photo’s of my journey. Crossing over the last bridge I snaked my way along the river and up into the heart of the city. I made good time and rolled on into the casino heading straight for the sports bar.

Ordered my usual, a rum and coke (pre-mixed in a small bottle) which the girl slipped into my cooler. Rather than have them mess with my wallet I put $50 behind the bar and my drinks come out of that. I could see the roulette tables from the bar. My strategy is to wait for four spins of the same color in a row then bet on the opposite color. After four black in a row I bet $50 on red and it won.

It doesn’t always work but I believe in at least trying to get the odds in your favor. It paid for my drinks. I thanked the girl at the bar for helping me as she took the empty bottle out of my cooler. I phoned ahead for a taxi cab and went outside to complete my journey home. I live a further 50 km (30 miles) from the casino.

It was out on the steet corner backed up against the casino wall, sheltering from the cold night air, when along came my generous donor. Watching up the street for my taxi cab, I heard a clink of metal, and felt my arm wriggle. Looking to my right a beautiful woman stood close before me smiling. Her eyes switched to the drink cooler still on my wrist then back to my eyes.

I peered into the cooler to see around a dollar in small change. Her smile widened with generosity. “OMG, I’m not a street beggar” I said. Her smile vanished and head tilted as if she was confused. “I just had a few drinks and a bet at the casino here. I’m just waiting for my taxi ride home.”

The woman looked over to a tall man standing a few meters from us watching this all unfold. “OMG… I am so sorry how embarrassing.” She said to me in a foreign accent. I said, “No, thank-you, that is very kind of you but I am fine. I even had a win tonight. I greatly appreciate your generosity, but really, I am not poor.”

She asked if I needed help to get into the taxi. The tall man stepped up and slipped his arm around her shoulder with a reasuring hug.  They were from Denmark. I explained how we have maxi-taxi’s with a hoist in the back. They lift me in my wheelchair so I can drive straight on in.

I declined the offer to use her spare change toward my cab fare home and she fished it out of my cooler. I suggested giving it to the next person she see’s doing something nice for a stranger. Pay it forward. The wind whipped around the corner as they walked off.

Conrad Treasury Casino riverside city lights

Conrad Treasury Casino riverside city lights

I pulled my hood back on tight and thought of a Sporting Wheelies Association friend of mine. Carmen was sitting in her push wheelchair in the mall with a half full can of Coke between her legs. A guy walking past pushed five cents into it. Carmen is a feisty girl, she tore him a new one.

Next time I go downtown I’ll be sure to shave and wear a tie. Even when I do I still get a lot of wheelchair pity, or as I like to say, wheelchair compassion. It’s nice to know there are still good people in this world, even if they only cross our path for a minute or two.

Images Copyright  KC: Luke KC at Flickr

All you ever wanted to know about dating paraplegics and wheelchair users

Dating Paraplegics the Ultimate Guide

Dating paraplegics and wheelchair usersThere are many reasons for and against dating paraplegics and wheelchair users. We answer the common and complex questions people have in “Dating Paraplegics the Ultimate Guide”. Some answers may surprise, we cover all you need to know dating wheelchair users in short easy to understand terms.

“Dating Paraplegics the Ultimate Guide” is a great read for anyone dating. Begin to date a wheelchair user the right way. Discover the secrets to dating paraplegics and wheelchair users.

Dating Paraplegics and Wheelchair Users

  1. Pushy: I want to ask a wheelchair user out but I’m afraid I will scare them off.

    True: You may scare them off, so don’t hang around waiting for a relationship that will never happen. Go ahead and ask them out. They may feel the same way about you. Be creative, “If you behave, I will let you take me out to dinner Friday night.” Most who feel the same way will be flattered. At least you will then know where you stand.

  2. Personal Care Nurse: I don’t want to be a care nurse. That is to much work for me. I don’t want to help with personal care, help toilet shower and dress etc. It is a huge burden and turn-off.

    True: It is a huge responsibility yes. It is alright to feel that way. But you do not have to be their care nurse. They got along fine before they met you. And they will be fine if you leave. Paraplegics are quite able to take care of their own personal hygiene. The very few paraplegics who do need some help with personal care will have, or should get, support services in place.

  3. No Sex: Dating a paraplegic wheelchair user means no sex. They can’t feel it so they don’t enjoy sex or make love very often.

    False: Sex is not usually one of the things we talk about on a first date. Most men and women dating paraplegics do report a healthy active sex life. Those in long term relationships with paraplegics describe them as above average lovers. Some may, but don’t expect all of us to talk about sex on the first date.

  4. Bad Sex: Paraplegics are bad in bed. They just lay there all paralyzed and lifeless during sex.

    False: Paraplegics have great upper body strength. Most can be on top if they want to. Paraplegics are physically active and hands on during the act of love making. If things are boring introduce scented candles, oils, music etc. Appeal to the other senses. Wheelchair users are very visual when it comes to foreplay and sex.

  5. Erections: All wheelchair users have trouble getting and keeping an erection.

    False: What you need to know is if their Spinal Cord Injury is “complete” or “incomplete.” Most with SCI are incomplete. They can get an erection by touching or rubbing their penis, or in the case of girls, wet by rubbing their clitoris. Generally it is only men with a complete spinal cord injury who find it hard to get and keep an erection.

  6. No Children: People in wheelchairs can’t have children. They should not have children. Dating a paraplegic you will not be able to start a family. They can’t look after or raise children very well.

    False: Paraplegic women have the same chance of conceiving a child as any other fertile woman. Pregnancy and childbirth are carried out in much the same way as able-bodied women. Paraplegic women make excellent mothers. Paraplegic men have a slightly lower fertility rate than other men do. Paraplegic men make excellent fathers.

  7. Bad Genes: People with a spinal cord injury have a high risk of giving birth to disabled babies.

    False: A spinal cord injury is not genetic. It cannot be passed on to children.

  8. Short Life Span: Wheelchair users don’t live as long as regular people.

    True: Doctors say a spinal cord injury can shorten an otherwise 80 year life span by a year or two. However, by far the biggest factor influencing life span is lifestyle.

  9. Scarred For Life: Wheelchair users have nasty scars weird legs and a fucked up body.

    True: Most paraplegics do have some scars. In fact most people over 25 have some scars. Injuries involving broken bones require surgery. Unless obvious only trusted people get to see a paraplegics scars. Behind every scar is a story. Paraplegics often have thin limp legs (flaccid legs). Most have a well defined strong upper body to compensate.

  10. Angry: I have been dating paraplegics for some time, they are angry hurtful and mean. I figure it will get better in time.

    False: If you are dating a spinal cord injury wheelchair user who is mean and angry, 90% of the time you will come to find they were mean and angry before the wheelchair. Everybody has their bad days but that is no excuse. You should never tolerate abuse. Do not make threats to leave. Pack up and leave. At the very least, move away from anyone who is angry and abusive to you.

  11. Easy Target: Wheelchair users are easy to rape use and abuse for sex.

    False: Wheelchair users have open access to protective services and often carry a vital call alarm. The rape and abuse of disabled people is a very serious crime. Paraplegics can fight back. They have more upper body strength than regular people and know how to use it.

  12. Easy to Disable: I feel safe dating paraplegics because I can easy tip them out of their wheelchair if they annoy me.

    False: You can tip them out but they can get back in quickly and heaven help you when they do. When others learn of what you have done you will not be safe. Never tip any wheelchair user out of their chair unless they ask you to.

  13. Baggage: When dating paraplegics you have to put their wheelchair in the car. Lift them in and out of the car. Carry a butt-load of medical supplies. It’s just a big drama to go out.

    False: Paraplegics can transfer from their wheelchair into a car without help. Some use a sliding board (short smooth board to slide on) to make it safe and easy. They can pull their wheelchair apart and stow it in the back seat of the car. It is polite to offer assistance. Don’t feel bad if it is refused. Many paraplegics will already drive their own car with hand controls.

  14. Catheters: I want to know what the deal is with catheters but I do not want to seem rude and ask my date how they pee and stuff. Should I just go ahead and ask?

    True: Yes go ahead and ask. Most dating paraplegics and wheelchair users don’t find such questions rude. They are happy to talk about and explain how they go to the bathroom. After all, if things go well, you will both get more intimate than that at some point. It is good to know how your wheelchair partner functions before that happens.

  15. Repulsed: I cannot get over the catheter thing. It really turns me off sex.

    True: It is fair to say that kind of thing is not pretty. No paraplegic likes having to poke a tube up their private to drain their bladder, but they don’t get much choice. Ask them how they got over it. Give it some time and you might get more used to the idea. If the catheter is in during sex, ask them about taking it out for sex. Most paraplegics can go without a catheter for several hours.

  16. Parking Permit: I am only dating paraplegics for the parking.

    False: You are only easy to please or just butt lazy. Disability parking permits only apply to people who medically qualify for them. Sticker or no sticker, if they are not in the car, you may not park there. Everyone knows the best thing about dating paraplegics is the oral sex!

  17. Restricted Access: You miss out on things dating paraplegics. It’s like dragging an anchor around. You can only go places that have wheelchair access. That means boring and not spontaneous.

    False: Many people dating paraplegics enjoy all kinds of physical activities. They can fly, hike, swim, etc. and play most any sport. Night clubs, rock concerts and cinemas are just a few places where wheelchair users are given priority seating and access.

  18. Opening Doors: Should I open the door?

    False: Ask them, “May I get the door for you?” If you do open it, don’t stand in the way or stretch your arm out for them to go under. In general when dating paraplegics it’s polite for a man to open the door for a woman.

  19. Travel: There are limited places to go dating paraplegics and it costs extra to travel.

    False: Paraplegics often qualify for discounted fares. Some airlines allow a companion to fly free with any full fare paying wheelchair user. No country in the world bans wheelchair users or dating paraplegics. It may just take a little more planning.

  20. Beaches: Don’t go to the beach when dating paraplegics. They get stuck in soft sand.

    True: A standard manual push chair will get stuck in soft sand. You can drag them through backwards but that will exhaust you quickly. Wheelchair users love the beach and warm sunny places. Just stick to beaches with a boardwalk or pier until you get to know what they are capable of. They might prefer a quad bike or 4 wheel drive.

  21. Never Say Walk: It’s rude to say let’s go for a walk when dating paraplegics.

    False: They don’t care. They know what you mean.

  22. Second Person: If someone asks me, what my date wants, should I answer for them?

    False: Politely tell them to ask your date instead.

  23. Income: I do not want to work all day while they sit at home and do nothing.

    True: Paraplegics do sit all day. Many work part-time to supplement a disability pension or hold down a full-time job. Some are career professionals. They may not like you sitting around doing nothing all day either.

  24. House Maid: Dating paraplegics is good because they like to pick up after you.

    False: You won’t be dating paraplegics for long if you are messy. Wheelchair users do not like clothes left on the floor. They get tangled in their castor wheels, and may cause them to fall from their chair. They do not like to pick up after you. That includes your friends, if they make a mess, they better clean it up.

  25. Home Access: Back at their home they told me, “Don’t touch my stuff.” But I am not a klutz.

    True: It is something dating paraplegics have to say a lot. Not because you are a klutz. If they go for the phone in an emergency, only to find you have moved it beyond their reach, you may cause them harm. Their stuff may look out of place to you, and most won’t mind you touching, but always put things back the way you found them.

  26. Yard Work: Can they mow the lawn and keep the yard tidy?

    True: Gardening is a very popular hobby amongst wheelchair users. Paraplegics can drive ride on mowers, tractors, harvesters, handle a saw etc. Most with a house in the suburbs pay someone to mow their lawn, and clean the gutters out. The rest they can take care of. Pot plants, home gardens, and raised garden beds are easy to look after.

  27. Drug Addicts: Paraplegics are a good source of drugs.

    False: Paraplegics require little to no medication. They avoid taking prescribed drugs as much as possible.

  28. Retarded: All wheelchair users are retarded in some way. A spinal cord injury causes brain damage. Paraplegics have all kinds of emotional issues and mental problems.

    False: A spinal cord injury is certainly a traumatic event. It does not cause brain damage. For the most part, rehab after a spinal cord injury gives paraplegics a new lease on life. Paraplegics who are open to dating are more than often well adjusted, and emotionally well balanced.

  29. Plenty Of Fish: There are so many non-disabled why bother dating the disabled?

    True: There are more able-bodied. Dating paraplegics is just as risky and rewarding as dating able-bodied people. No one group or type of person should be excluded. But we all have our own likes and dislikes. We are all free to chose who we date.

  30. Approval: Pressure from family and friends. He is only dating paraplegic girls because he can’t get a real woman. My friends and family don’t approve.

    False: This is a very narrow minded and ignorant statement for anyone to make. There are many positives to dating paraplegics. More than often in public these days those dating paraplegics get noticed and praised. Paraplegics are smart people. They will be quick to tell anyone with such bias opinions to grow up or go away.

  31. Rejection: I would like to date a paraplegic but I know nothing about disability and wheelchair life. I am afraid I will be rejected.

    True: Your advances may be declined, not because you know nothing about disability. When it comes to love, the feeling is not always mutual. C’est la vie (such is life). If a disabled person rejects you it does not mean you are un-lovable. They simply aren’t ready to date or don’t feel a strong enough love attraction toward you.

  32. Bunny Boiler: Wheelchair users are very needy. If I am dating paraplegics and it doesn’t work out, when I leave they will have plenty of time on their hands to stalk me.

    False: With that attitude they will be glad to see you leave. Paraplegics are no more or less needy than anyone else. They got over breaking their spine, I’m sure they will get over you.

Resources

 

NDIS SIA 6 Supporters

NDIS Six Reasons to Support a National Disability Insurance Scheme

Media Release: Powerful National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) video demonstrates the daily disasters faced in the disability sector.

Graham Streets is one of six people to star in a YouTube campaign calling for the Federal Government to implement a National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). The short video, titled Why the Spinal Injuries Association supports an NDIS, was released last week on YouTube.

In the YouTube campaign, Graham shares how his spinal cord injury has taken a life-long effect on his health. He now weighs just 45 kilograms.

People with permanent, physical disabilities in Australia are really struggling. There are not enough appropriate supports and services in place to allow people to get back into the community and contribute to society. At the moment I can only afford to have my carer help me out of bed in the morning and back into bed at night, so it’s pretty tough going for me during the day. I don’t get to have any lunch. — Graham Streets

Spinal Injuries Association CEO Mark Henley said as well as Graham’s story, the video also highlighted the challenges faced by four other members of the organisation and a member’s mother, who has been caring for her son for the past 35 years. These people also stated how an NDIS would improve their quality of life.

While many of our members and clients lead productive, fulfilling lives, too many are in crisis and it’s time for much-needed change. With the Productivity Commission handing down its final report into an NDIS on 31 July, we need as many people as possible to view our video and sign the online petition for an NDIS at www.spinal.com.au/ndis. People power can really make a difference – it could transform the lives of people with disabilities and those that often support them – their family and loved ones. — Mark Henley

Mark said recent figures from National Disability Services showed that if just 2% of people with a disability had appropriate support and could come off the pension and return to work, there would be a $2.5 billion injection into the economy.

An NDIS wouldn’t just signal major social reform, it also makes good, economic sense. — Mark Henely

Graham, who sustained quadriplegia in a motorcycle accident in 16 years ago, said the key recommendations in the Productivity Commission’s draft report, which was released on 28 February, further highlighted the dire need for an NDIS.

Currently, 1.4 million Australians have a serious disability, and unfortunately, a disability can be sustained in an instant. By 2030, there will be around 2.9 million people with a serious disability in this country. On top of those numbers, consider the family and friends who are often providing personal care to people with disabilities and it highlights the enormity of the issue. — Graham Streets

If implemented, a National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) would begin in stages from January 2014. It would provide appropriate financial support for people with physical disabilities sustained either at birth (for example, cerebral palsy) or at any stage during their life (for example, a spinal cord injury).

This support would allow people to fund their personal care needs, therapy, aids and equipment, home modifications, and employment training, — expenses that they now have to pay for on top of their everyday — living expenses that all Australians face.

Spinal Injuries AssociationNDIS Website

The Spinal Injuries Association supports and empowers 2,000 Queenslanders who have spinal cord injuries. For more information on the organisation, please visit www.spinal.com.au or www.everyaustraliancounts.com.au for more NDIS information.

Resources

spinal injury wheelchair parents

Wheelchair Parents With Spinal Cord Injury

Some of the best parents you will ever meet are wheelchair users. Children of wheelchair parents are well adjusted, bright, caring, kind hearted, willing active family participants. They are very accepting of people and cultures outside of their own. Children of wheelchair parents and disabled parents more than most, display a healthy positive disposition, with tremendous respect and admiration for their parents knowing first-hand the daily challenges they face.  

Spinal cord injury wheelchair mother and children

Wheelchair Mother and Children

It is important to note that while we say most, like any demographic, not all wheelchair mothers and fathers are good parents. A disability like spinal cord injury is never an excuse for bad parenting. You may be inclined to make allowances, or conversely be overly critical of, parents with a disability. We suggest you treat wheelchair parents just like any other parent. Ask yourself if you would step in if there was no disability. When it comes to reporting neglect and abuse, a child’s safety and welfare must always be put before any other factor.  

Enza Ronaldi, a wheelchair mother with muscular dystrophy admits when in public with her children,

“I am very aware of people looking at me, and very aware of how I’m acting with my children because I know I’m in the spotlight.” But, she concedes with a laugh, “Maybe they’re just thinking, ‘Oh, what cute kids!’”  – Enza Ronaldi

Desirable Wheelchair Parenting Qualities

Cornell University’s Stephen Emlen and colleagues asked nearly 1,000 people aged 18 to 24 to rank several attributes, including physical attractiveness, health, social status, ambition, and faithfulness, on a desirability scale. People who rated themselves favorably as long-term partners were more particular about the attributes of potential mates. After fidelity, the most important attributes were physical appearance, family commitment, and wealth and status.  

“Good parenting, devotion, and sexual fidelity – that’s what people say they’re looking for in a long-term relationship.” – Stephen Emlen  

While worthy of consideration we need to use this information in context. These are what people say they’re looking for. These are not necessarily what it takes to be an excellent partner and parent. The data only spans a six year age difference. No statistics on the study group’s backgrounds were given and nowhere was a disability mentioned. With a focus on spinal cord injury and wheelchair parenting our list is quite different.  

Couples considering parenting where one or both parents are wheelchair users I offer one crucial piece of advice. The measure of a man is not his height, it is how high he holds you. Not one of the skills required to be a good parent is of a physical nature. Compassion patience love and support, fidelity honesty and loyalty, are required and so top our list of admirable parenting qualities.  

The human compulsion to seek an attractive tall athletic man or beautiful curvaceous healthy woman with good teeth dates back to caveman days. Partner selection based on genetic aesthetics ensured best family survival and longevity. Athletic men made good hunters, healthy attractive women bred healthy attractive children and the cycle repeated continuing bloodlines. There were no wheelchairs. Those with a disability born or incurred rarely lived more than a few years. A spinal cord injury meant imminent death.  

We don’t live in caves anymore, we have dental plans, yet still many chose partners based on aesthetics. Without the qualities essential to parenting in the modern era such relationships often fail. Equally a spinal cord injury does not gift you good parenting capabilities. It’s important not to dismiss the ability to learn grow into and develop good parenting qualities.  

For these reasons compassion patience and love top our desirable wheelchair parents list. An individual with spinal cord injury who is kind to animals, respectful and kind to family. Loving understanding and compassionate toward you, make good lifelong partners and parents. They typically afford the same ideals toward children be they biological or inherited children.  

Cost To Parents With Spinal Cord Injury

Certainly wealth and status are sought by the majority of parents wanting to provide their children the tools and opportunities to good education, health services, safety and social development. You only need consider a mobile (cell) phone. Used responsibly it can enhance all the above in a child’s life. These are not cheap devices especially if your child changes phones as frequently as those I know.  

Spinal cord injury wheelchair father carrying child

Wheelchair Father and Child

Living with a spinal cord injury is expensive costing around $167,000 AUD annualy to meet the basic needs of a paraplegic. The higher the level of injury the higher the cost of living post injury. Quadriplegia (tetraplegia) pushes this figure out to $392,000 AUD for essential basic services and equipment. The expense of high level quadriplegia requiring mechanical ventilaton is $1,047,000 AUD per year. This is in a country that provides (for those who qualify) free basic health care, education and subsidised housing.

Add the annual cost of $11,000/boy and $14,000/girl and clearly evident parents with a disability face huge financial expenses beyond the average citizen. Mobile phones and other “luxury items” come secondary to the cost of spinal cord injury. 

  • Length of initial hospitalization following personal injury in acute care units: 15 days
  • Average stay in rehabilitation unit: 44 days
  • Initial hospitalization costs following injury: $140,000 USD
  • Average first year expenses for a SCI injury (all groups): $198,000 USD
  • First year expenses for paraplegics: $152,000 USD
  • First year expenses for quadriplegics: $417,000 USD
  • Average lifetime costs for paraplegics, age of injury 25: $428,000 USD
  • Average lifetime costs for quadriplegics, age of injury 25: $1.35 million USD
  • Percentage of SCI individuals who are covered by private health insurance at time of injury 52%
  • Percentage of SCI individuals unemployed eight years after injury 63%.

 
New Zealand has taken lead in recent years recognizing that the actual cost of living with a spinal cord injury is the real disability. Australia Canada Switzerland Germany and other countries are adopting the NZ model through social and medical reform. The lives of wheelchair users have proven to be greatly enhanced by early financial assistance. From basic human rights to productive contributors in society early socio-economic support is key. 

Restoring Broken Spines And Homes

Some who accidently receive a spinal cord injury already have a partner or spouse children and extended family members. This can compound a pressure to resume their previous lifestyle and parental role. While desirable and possibly noble that approach is not practical. A spinal cord injury is for the majority a permanent disability. Wheelchair parents constantly report feelings of “sitting on the sidelines” being “unable to wrestle on the floor” and interact in sports and many other activities. It can become overwhelming. Some of these same wheelchair parents say the trick is to find new activities they can involve their children and participate in.  

Modern materials and adaptive technologies are greatly enhancing the opportunities and experience of parenting with a disability. A wide range of adaptive products are available as necessity continues to drive innovation and better design. Handicap friendly equipment is often more user friendly for all. From cloth nappies that come with Velcro, to wheelchair driver accessible vehicles. Amazingly functional wheelchairs and high-tech adaptive sporting equipment also enrich the lives of handicapped parents.  

The Right To Parent With A Disability

Not everyone believes that people with disabilities should have the opportunity to be parents. In the 1970s the practice of reproductive sterilization amongst individuals with intellectual impairments was common and is still practiced. I know a schizophrenic who married a bipolar schizophrenic whom together had a baby girl with various non-visible developmental and physical handicaps. To see this family in the street they looked like any other. Were they good parents? A judge thought not, they lost custody of their child, and eventually divorced.

A spinal cord injury is not contagious nor genetically contractible. To assume that a wheelchair makes anyone less capable or unworthy of parenting is simply a foolhardy misconception. Greater medicinal knowledge, social understanding and awareness establishes’ the opportunity to parent as a basic human right.  

It could be argued that spinal cord injury wheelchair parents are more responsible than most. How many able-bodied potential parents have their sperm and/or eggs tested for genetic integrity, motility and viability, prior to conception? How many financially plan and qualify for various schemes, professional advice, and support? Most wheelchair parents do. The common argument is, you need to pass a test and hold a license to drive a car. But anyone can have a baby, no test or license required. We see truly horrific abusive parents in news and other media reports, very seldom are they wheelchair users.  

Resources

discrimination

Ableism A Definition Of Normal

You would be forgiven for thinking ableism is a term describing the empowerment of people with disabilities as equals, to make able, or the giving of ability. It is not. Ableism means to be normal. Establishing the able body as “normal” in society gives avenue to prejudice social attitudes and discriminatory behaviors toward the disabled body, designated to the category “abnormal.” By forming a group deemed normal, anyone not included in that group must be not-normal. An accurate definition of ableism relies on the ability to recognize normal ability and the rights and benefits afforded to persons deemed normal. 

Ableism; A term used to describe normal assumptions and practices that often lead to unequal treatment of people with apparent or assumed physical, intelectual, or behavioral differences. It could be said, ableism is about categorization and exclusion. 

HISTORY OF ABLEISM

discrimination
Discrimination by exclusion

Prejudice and discrimination against people with disabilities have existed all throughout history. The term ableism only arose during the civil rights movements in the United States and Britain during the 1960s and 1970s. During this era disability activists transformed religious and scientific understandings of disability into a political paradigm. 

In religious and scientific paradigms, disability is an individual characteristic. The disabled individual bears primary responsibility for enduring or remedying their disability through prayer in the religious or medical intervention in the scientific paradigm. Disabilities such as paraplegia and quadriplegia from spinal cord injury, acquired brain injuries and blindness to name a few leave little avenue for the latter, medical intervention. 

A common theme to both religious and scientific tradition is nondisabled should behave compassionately toward disabled persons. From the civil rights perspective, often called a minority oppression model, society creates disability by creating physical and social environments hostile to persons different from the majority or “normal” abled culture. Often overlooked or dismissed it’s important to expect that disabled people also act compassionately and respectfully toward nondisabled people. 

Some believe it is ableism that prevents disabled people from full participation in the social fabric of their communities, rather than impairments in physical, mental, or emotional ability. Ableism emanates from attitudes and behaviors of individuals, communities, and institutions as well as from physical and social environments. 

MANIFESTATIONS OF ABLEISM

If you have ever been told your thoughts and feelings are not normal, been made feel excluded or less than, that you don’t belong or fit in, you’ve experienced ableism. 

Discriminatory attitudes and practices that promote unequal treatment of spinal cord injury wheelchair bound people are common being a visually obvious physical disability with many pre-conceived limitations. Ableism may be direct or indirect, based on common belief, scientific norms, or false assumptions. 

Stereotypes can prevent members of the majority “non-disabled” group from ever seeing one from a minority “disabled” group as an individual. Pity, lowered expectations, normalization as beneficence, limitations in self-determination, labeling and eugenics are common components of ableism. 

With writing this article in mind I recently asked a group of associates if they ever described me as a cripple. Cripple being somewhat of a derogatory term in Australia like Spaz is in the US and UK. They preferred to use my name, then wheelie or quad in greater reference. They had no problem with me calling myself a cripple, or one wheelchair user calling another cripple or spaz, not exclusive to spinal cord injury or wheelchair users but in general between any two people with a disability. 

This small “study group” felt it inappropriate for a “normal” person to use the terms cripple or spaz. Quote: “Like black American’s sometimes call each other nigger, but white people should never.” 

Ableism is alive and well, labeling and pre-conceived notions are made of people with a disability before ever asking the disabled how they actually feel or would like to be referred to. A disabled person is automatically looked upon and treated as “special” or different, not “normal.” 

LOW EXPECTATION PRODUCES LOW ACHIEVMENT

Expectations are preconceived notions, probable future outcomes based on current observations. Expectations of parents, teachers, employers, and others can have great influence over ideals, development and achievement. 

High achievement outcomes among scholars have been identified where high expectation was placed and conversely low achievement where low expectations placed. Also identified, the younger the person, the greater the influence of others expectations. Lowered expectations of an individual with a disability where education and employment opportunities exist are being addressed. Most established countries now prohibit certain forms of discrimination. 

LEGISLATION ACTS AGAINST ABLEISM

  • In Australia, the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA; 1992) supports nondiscrimination in employment, education, access to premises, accommodation, buying or selling land, activities of clubs, sport, administration of Commonwealth laws and programs, provision of goods and services, and facilities. The Disability Services Act (DSA; 1986) enables a person with a disability the right to achieve their individual capacity for physical, social, emotional, and intellectual development.
     
  • In the United States, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA; 1975, 1997) requires schools to provide “free and appropriate education” for all students, and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA; 1990) provides protection from discrimination and ensures equal opportunity for persons with disabilities in employment, state and local government services, public accommodations, commercial facilities, and transportation. It also mandates the establishment of TDD/telephone relay services for qualifying persons with disability.
     
  • In the United Kingdom, the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA; 1995, 2005) requires public bodies to promote equal opportunities for disabled people. It aims to end the discrimination that many disabled people face by giving disabled people rights in the areas of employment, education, access to goods, facilities and services including larger private clubs and land-based transport services, buying or renting land or property including making it easier for disabled people to rent property and for tenants to make disability-related adaptations, functions of public bodies, and allows the government to set minimum standards so that disabled people can use public transport easily.

 
The inherent problem with any such acts of legislation is the inability to adequately protect the disabled from unspoken judgments and perceptions of inadequacy that can stigmatize and shadow a person throughout childhood and adulthood. Who enforces these acts in your average schoolyard or workplace? Certainly there is lag and faults implementing policy in any social environment, education is the key. 

ABLEISM IN EDUCATION

Disability Advocate Thomas Hehir
Thomas Hehir

Thomas Hehir, an advocate for children with disabilities in the education system and director of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (1993 to 1999) was responsible for federal leadership in implementing the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). 

Hehir defines ableism as, “The devaluation of disability that results in societal attitudes that uncritically assert that it is better for a child to walk than roll, speak than sign, read print than read Braille, spell independently than use a spell-check, and hang out with nondisabled kids as opposed to other disabled kids.”

Thomas Hehir asserts that children with learning disabilities should be given access to the full curriculum even if evidence suggests their literacy skills will always be weak.  Hehir also champions the abolition of policies that allow schools to exclude performance of children with disabilities from overall school performance. Arguing laws of exclusion reinforce lower expectations, and produce lower achievement, for children with disability. 

wheelchair kids education
Ableism in Education

ABLEISM IN EMPLOYMENT

Ableism causing lowered expectation in employment is ingrained in many cultures around the world. It is especially prevalent in capitalist economies where potential employees with obvious visible disabilities like spinal cord injury requiring use of a wheelchair are viewed as expensive labor, or not suited for labor at all. With such a strong focus on the “limits” of being wheelchair bound the unique abilities only a paraplegic or quadriplegic can bring to a position are often overlooked. Ableism in a workplace exacerbates lower expectations and produces discrimination. 

GOOD INTENTIONS ARE NOT ALWAYS GOOD

Ableism is encouraged by the assumption that normal physical, mental, and emotional behavior is beneficial. Research evidence supports an opposing conclusion, that equating normal with desirable is disparaging and potentially harmful to disabled persons. For example, parents may assume a child with multiple sclerosis will blend in and appear more normal wearing leg braces over using a wheelchair. When the use of a wheelchair could in actuality enable that child to travel further faster, be included in experience and learn more. Normalization is particularly detrimental when nondisabled assume authority over those with a disability. 

FREEDOM OF SELF-DETERMINATION

Self-determination empowers us to make decisions for ourselves. Freedom to associate with whomever one chooses, control of finances, mobility, complete authority over one’s own life and taking full responsibility for the consequences of exercising that authority. Self-determination is an internationally endorsed idealism. The United Nations General Assembly adopted the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” in 1948. Unfortunately these rights are not afforded to all disabled persons. 

Often a group endorses self-determination among members but restricts or inhibits disabled persons from making even basic life choices. Even when legal codes establish the rights of disabled persons to exercise self determination it can go unfulfilled in areas of education, employment, transportation, housing, medical decision making, and social interchange. These rights often remain inaccessible to disabled persons due to lack of wheelchair access, other physical and social barriers, limited financial resources, and disabling attitudes. 

LABLED AS DISABLED FOR LIFE

Labeling a person as disabled requires a judgment that an individual’s behaviors are somehow inadequate based on community expectations and how a given activity should be accomplished. Professionals consider methods used by regular able-bodied people of the same age, sex, cultural and social environment to accomplish a task to be normal, and all other methods to be abnormal. This common interpretation of disability devises two categories where people are abled or disabled. Abled being the benchmark of normal relegates disabled to less than normal. Labels of normal are associated with positive social meaning and receive encouragement whereas abnormal associated with negative, requiring correction, further oppressing experiences and opportunities for the disabled.  

IMPROVING THE HUMAN RACE

Eugenics is the study of or belief in the possibility of improving the qualities of the human species, especially by such means as discouraging reproduction by persons having genetic defects or presumed to have inheritable undesirable traits. In an extreme act of ableism thousands of disabled children were executed by the Nazi regime in Germany during World War II. 

Abortion based on the early discovery of genetic defects is eugenics based on ableism. Permitted abortion for babies likely to be born disabled, but not for those likely to be born abled, invalidates the lives of disabled persons. Many are of the opinion societies vastly improve when tolerance acceptance and understanding are exercised. The human race benefits as a whole when all people are seen as equal, when the contributions of those deemed to be of minority groups are all inclusive and recognized of value. 

Diversity is what makes the tapestry of life so rich, it is what makes us human, and not any one of us truly “normal.” 

Graham Streets
MSC Founder 

RESOURCES

  • Bartlett, Peter. 1997. “Judging Disability: The Problem of Ableism.” Nottingham, UK: Nottingham University, Student Human Rights Law Centre.
  • Gary L. Albrecht. 2006. “Encyclopedia of Disability.” University of Illinois, Chicago, USA
  • Hehir, Thomas. 2002. “Eliminating Ableism in Education.”
  • Ruebain, David. 2000. “What Is Prejudice? As It Relates to Disability and Anti-Discrimination Law” Berkeley, CA:
  • Takayuki, Manakata. 1999. “Human Rights, the Right of Self-Determination and the Right to Freedom.” International Journal of Peace Studies
  • Terry, Paul M. 1996. “Preparing Educational Leaders to Eradicate the ‘isms.” Paper presented at the Annual International Congress on Challenges to Education: Balancing Unity and Diversity in a Changing World, Palm Beach, Aruba.
  • United Nations, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. 1948. “Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” Geneva: United Nations.

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