Word of the Day: Disablism

Today is Blog Against Disablism Day. A couple of hundred bloggers around the country and world are devoting their post today to the subject of disablism. Some will be angry, some will be funny and some will be proud. Many will tell of personal experiences of being victimized by disablism.

What is disablism?

Disablism is not hiring Stephen Hawking as an astrophysics professor because his voice is artificial.

Disablism is not voting for Max Cleland not because you disagree with his positions on issues, but because he has no legs.

Disablism is not seeing Stevie Wonder perform because he can’t see you.

Disablism is paying more attention to what a person can’t do than to what he or she is capable of.

I learned at a very early age that everyone has a mixture of abilities and disabilities and that what someone can do is more important than what they can’t. My best childhood friend taught me. His name was Alan Kamen and I knew him in fourth and fifth grade.

Alan was so good at so many things that I was jealous of his abilities. He played piano and the accordion, hit the ball hard when we played softball and spoke two languages. He was also blind.

Being an ignorant kid and too young to drive, I had no idea that blindness was a disability. Alan went to the same school as me and all the other kids in the neighborhood; he was in my class. He read the same books we read; they were big, heavy and in braille, but otherwise the same. When we wrote with pencils he wrote on his heavy braille typewriter. Alan played softball with us almost every day. We used a ball with bells in it and when he ran the bases we stood on the base and yelled so he could find it. Those were the only concessions we made to his being blind.

Alan taught me that there is usually more than one way to do things, that adaptation is a necessary life skill, and that everyone has abilities that are very easy to miss if you pay attention to what they can’t do.

No one is asking you to do anything special, just let ability trump disability.
The world being the way it is, we can’t afford to toss anyone’s abilities away.

Blogging Against Disablism Day, May 1st 2009

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7 Responses to Word of the Day: Disablism

  1. Ira Socol says:

    I asked fellow grad students a couple of weeks agoif we could ever look out at a room and not see “special” – just see kids, all of whom have talents and all of whom need help. You learned to do this at an early age.

  2. NTE says:

    A great post… if we can just get society to see that every person is of value.

    • Deven Black says:

      I am in awe of all the bloggers who have written so many interesting, informative and personal posts for BADD. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on mine.

  3. A great post, people always talk about that old chestnut about how kids can be so cruel, it’s nice to see that it doesn’t always have to be true.

    • Deven Black says:

      At the time nothing seemed at all odd about the way we reacted to Alan. To a large extent we just followed the accepting, accommodating and generous model set by the school’s principal who seemed to always find a way to include any student in any activity the student wanted to take part in. He even convinced the music teacher to let me play triangle in the school band despite my total lack of musical ability. The principal told the music teacher that I could count beats and chime in where I should. Children need more adult models like him and I try my best to be one.

  4. Carol J. says:

    As a special educator, disablism takes on a different meaning. I have a wonderful group of 12 students. All with varying abilities. Many of my students have been told they could only reach “this high” (hand is 2′ off the ground). If it was not told to them directly, it was implied. They all tell me stories of educators and family members who remind them of their “disabilities” regularly.
    So when we think of disablism, remember the affeected group is unfortunately very large and not limited to the obvious.
    Thanks Devon for reminding us all.

    • Deven Black says:

      I am fortunate to know your students and can testify to their warmth, humor and variety of talents and abilities Everybody has a great many things that they cannot do and people rarely need to be reminded of them. Everybody also has talents and abilities, and these need to be nurtured, developed and celebrated. I know that is what you do on a daily basis.

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