We’re All Responsible for Disability Awareness
Imani Barbarin is a disability advocate best known for her online presence and hashtag creations (e.g., #AbledsAreWeird), which spur national and international conversations around disability and living in a world designed to ignore it. She recently led a United Way webinar to delve into how society sees people with disabilities, how people can foster disability awareness, and the many ways that ableism* constructs or reinforces barriers.
Imani held an insightful conversation that covered a range of negative experiences that people with disabilities often face. Her presentation covered common myths, stereotypes, and beliefs that shape people’s understanding of ability. She also talked about the lack of diverse representations in advocacy/disability conversations.
In Tennessee, 15.58%** of people (all ages) live with some type of disability. Each day, hundreds of Tennesseans contact, browse, or visit the Department for Human Services to access the resources they need to support themselves or their families. Those resources might include food assistance, protective services, care for their children, or work opportunities for people with disabilities.
Imani shared that able-bodied people, and those with proximity to disabilities, should avoid condescending behaviors and inappropriate comments, which in turn can help change the culture of disability in our communities.
Here are 5 (of several) behaviors that Imani called attention to…
#1 Avoid stereotypes
Humans are diverse; therefore, people are not one-size-fits-all. This goes for people with disabilities. Check your biases. Check your privileges. And don’t make assumptions about someone’s level of ability simply because they have a disability.
#2 Don’t Make Insensitive Comments
It’s not okay to hurt people’s feelings so that you can feel better about yourself. It’s not okay to be rude or offensive.
Example: “Oh, I could never live like that. You are so brave.”
Example: “If I had your life, I’d kill myself.”
Consider how you would want to be treated. How would you want to be talked to?
#3 Don’t Offer Unsolicited Advice
Unsolicited advice often conveys the discomfort that people have for bodies that look or work differently than their own.
Example: It’s not okay to tell someone with a physical disability, “Have you tried yoga?”
#4 Don’t Infantilize People with Disabilities
This is a common issue that occurs when people act as if disabled people can’t speak or advocate for themselves. Instead, they get treated like children, talked over, and ignored when people insert their will and voices over a person with disabilities.
#5 Never Assume Capacity
Just because a person appears as if he/she/they can do less, that’s not necessarily true. Don’t make assumptions, and don’t make decisions on their behalf. Always ask first before helping. It’s okay to say, “Do you need help?” or “Let me know if you need assistance.”
We appreciate Imani for her advocacy and honesty and for sharing her journey with United Way! Click here to check out her blog.
*Ableism is discrimination and social prejudice against people with disabilities or who are perceived to have disabilities. Ableism characterizes persons as defined by their disabilities and as inferior to the non-disabled.
**2017 Disability Status Report – Tennessee – © 2019 Cornell University