Spying on Disablism

This post is part of the blogging carnival Blogging Against Disablism Day. ¬†Okay, that sounds like I’m blogging against there being a “disablism day.” ¬†It’s a day to blog against disablism, meaning prejudice against those who have disabilities. ¬†It is¬†sponsored¬†by Diary of a Goldfish.



I am not disabled.

As someone who is “disability-challenged” (that cracks me up, I love it!), but still caring about those who do have disabilities, I am in an unusual position to observe people’s response to disability when they are not trying to be sensitive.

So here are some honest reactions from non-disabled people…


I went on a date with a nice young man in a wheelchair. ¬†I was living in southern California at the time and he was from the east coast, so we decided to do something touristy and went to Universal Studios. ¬†It was a lot of fun and a great date, the only weird part was when we first arrived. ¬†We went through the front gate and a woman approached us and told me that we should stop at the information booth so we could find out about the park’s accessibility features. ¬†Seemed reasonable, so that’s where we went. ¬†I didn’t pay much attention. ¬†I was looking at the brochures and such, thinking that the information on accessibility was what my date needed to know. ¬†It took me a few minutes before I noticed that the woman at the information desk was speaking directly and only to me. ¬†I got the impression that the park employees thought I was some kind of aide, definitely not a date.

One of the most interesting things about that day was taking the shuttle bus between levels.  There was a hidden back area for this and we would wait with all the other wheelchair users at the park that day.  We saw those same people again and again on the bus and at the rides.  We were always in our own little section at the rides too.  It was a very diverse group, but it was fun to chat with them and share the day with that larger group.  It was interesting to me that there was a forced companionship between people who had nothing in common besides that bus.


A month or so prior to that experience I was on a date with a different young man in a wheelchair.  He drove in from northern California and we spent a weekend together.  I had the thought that I wanted to cook him dinner one night, but (short-sightedly of me), I was living in an inaccessible apartment.   What could be done?  Well, my date decided that he would climb my stairs.  I felt bad putting him through that, but he seemed determined.  I carried his chair up and waited at the top while he pulled his body up.  After dinner we repeated the same process.

The next day, after he had left town, I was walking my dog when a neighbor approached me and said she had seen me the night before. ¬†She said how nice it was of me to help that man. ¬†I was speechless for a few moments, trying to figure out if she really thought that he lived on the second floor. ¬†Finally I said that I wasn’t helping him, I was dating him. ¬†She was flustered and said again that was nice and left. ¬†I wanted to say, it was the opposite of helpful of me! ¬†If not for me, he wouldn’t have been climbing stairs at all.


A young relative of mine was diagnosed with a rather rare, progressive¬†neurological¬†disorder. ¬†He has a mild case, at least so far, and it’s likely to remain stable. ¬†It’s barely noticeable, but he does walk slightly differently and loses balance easily. ¬†My mother has a friend with a more advanced form of the same thing and her friend has been using a wheelchair for many years.

When it was first discovered in my relative, he was in college, and I was talking about it with my mom a little bit.  She was strategizing about how perhaps my brother should transfer to the same college in order to room with him and help him (that would mean my brother moving not only to a new school, but to a new State).

I said he was the same as he’d been before and he didn’t need help.

“You don’t know,” she said.

But I knew better than she did. ¬†“He’ll handle it,” I said. ¬†“He doesn’t need help now, and if in the future he does, then he’ll work something out. ¬†You don’t need to do it for him.”


I went to dinner recently with an ex from several years ago to catch up.¬† I had told him about my interest in disability back when we were dating, but since then it has become a much bigger part of my life.¬† In trying to figure me out he said, “So you’re attracted to guys who can’t work?”


Actually, the opposite.  I told him, I am rather old-fashioned and I am attracted to men who work hard, who are ambitious, who want to be productive.

“But people in wheelchairs can’t work, right?”

Stunned silence.


These stories will not be surprising to most of you, I’m sure! ¬†This is some of the day-to-day misinformation and misunderstanding that surrounds disability.

Someone recently pointed out to me that in some ways the nature of prejudice against people who have disabilities has changed. ¬†It used to be very upfront, blunt, and absolutely absurd to most of us now. ¬†In the past it used to be seen as fine to discriminate against someone because of his or her disability, that’s just how things were. ¬†In the years since the passing of the ADA, those things have become shocking to nearly everyone.¬† They all pay lip service to the idea that those who have disabilities should not be treated differently or badly and should have equal civil rights.

However, and it’s a big however, there is now a lot of subtle and insidious discrimination and prejudice. ¬†And many people don’t realize it’s there. ¬†Who would be mean to someone in a wheelchair? That just doesn’t happen. ¬†That’s what people believe, that’s what I get told. ¬†People tell me that there isn’t discrimination anymore. ¬†And it’s dangerous that people really believe that, because as these stories illustrate, it’s still there, right under the politically correct surface.


  1. Ira Socol
    May 1, 2011

    At the San Diego Zoo with my “spousal equivalent” while using a wheelchair we experienced the same… she was spoken to as my “aide” and I was unseen. I have discovered, quite absolutely, that being in a wheelchair makes you quite invisible.

    • RuthMadison
      May 1, 2011

      So strange! I’m a quiet person usually and I get uncomfortable in social situations, so I depend on the guy I’m with to do the interacting with the world! Strangely, the world seems adverse to that idea.

  2. Becca Boot
    May 1, 2011

    Hi, I’m not able to take part in BADD by writing a blog this year but I’m planning on posting a list of the blogs on my tumblr and I was wondering if I could include yours.
    Please let me know if this is okay.

    • RuthMadison
      May 1, 2011

      That would be great! Thanks ūüôā

  3. Ruth
    May 1, 2011

    Great BADD post! Just met a friend of a friend temporarily on crutches, shocked by people’s behavior toward her. Really are folks out there who think ableism doesn’t exist, which is mind boggling to those of us who deal with it.

    • RuthMadison
      May 1, 2011

      It shocks me how people can remain ignorant. It’s an issue that effects all of us and it should matter to every human being. It shouldn’t take crutches for someone to realize that, but I guess it’s good that she did realize it!


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