Being disabled and vocal about it brings people to respond to you differently. Non-disabled people, able-bodied people, usually have those things they say in hopes that they will make us feel better but very often, they miss they miss the point, completely. This text will bring up 5 things you should not say to disabled people. While I know I am not the only one because I have heard disabled people bring up some of those points before, feel free to take this with a grain of salt if that makes you feel better. Overall, I want you to think about the reasons why you say these things, what are your true intentions and hopefully you will understand why they are ableist.
1. ‘‘You’re so inspiring!’’
Let me put this plainly. I don’t exist to inspire you. My Instagram page is not somewhere you can go to feel better about yourself because you were oh so lucky to be born able-bodied. The term ‘inspiration porn’ was coined by the late activist Stella Young and refers to the type of content featuring disabled people that is mostly ,if not solely, used to make able-bodied people feel better about their own life, while doing close to nothing to better the lives of the disabled people featured in this content, but also all around the world. This type of content will usually focus on making the people consuming this content (people who are usually able-bodied) to feel pity for disabled people. This type of content represents the majority of the content we see featuring disabled people, meaning able-bodied people have a hard time seeing us as anything other than inspirational props, walking and/or rolling billboards with ‘‘Never give up, it could be worse: you could be me’’ written on them and so when they come across someone like me who, granted does activism work and brings awareness to the reality of disabled people, but mostly posts selfies and memes, they cannot stop themselves from calling me inspiring. Disabled folks exist outside of your need for motivation and optimism. After you scroll down my picture on Instagram and after you’ve thought to yourself ‘‘wow, she’s so inspiring’’, flash news: I STILL EXIST! And not only do I still exist, I still have problems and issues mostly related to the lack of accessibility the world presents which has to be fixed by able-bodied people, by people like you. Young chose the word ‘porn’ specifically because she wants us to pay attention to the objectification of disabled people in this type of content, objectification that is often present in pornography when it comes to women. And like with pornography, we know that this objectification doesn’t only affect the actresses in those films, during the production of the film, all women are objectified, all day, everyday, to the point where we can even ask ourselves which one came first. For disability it is the same thing: able-bodied people are so used to consuming objectifying content about disabled people that they cannot stop themselves from perpetuating it. But this is where this text comes in: simply stop. Do not tell me I’m inspiring, I am simply trying to survive here. If you are a fan of my work, tell me just that, tell me I’m a good writer or that my social media presence as changed your perspectives on things but at this stage in my life, I have not done anything inspiring. Talking about my disability is something I do to protect myself and my community and to make sure that able-bodied people stop oppressing us. It shouldn’t be inspiring that I’m trying to stay alive and it shouldn’t be inspiring that I am trying to make people feel better about themselves, it should be the norm. You too should uplift disabled voices and work to deconstruct ableism.
2. ‘‘You’re still pretty/handsome’’
You are not getting ‘good karma points’ when you tell a disabled person they’re attractive. A lot of able-bodied people are aware of the insecurities disabled people have when it comes to their physical appearance, but also about their overall self worth. As a disabled Black woman, I am very aware that there are people who find me unattractive, specifically for these reasons. They are not attracted to Black women so the colour of the skin that covers my body is a deal breaker and/or the idea of dating a disabled person seems almost repulsive to them. While I am aware of those things, I don’t want to be reminded of them, especially not by you. Telling me ‘‘I’m pretty for a disabled person’’ or that ‘‘I’m still pretty even though I’m disabled’’ means that you find me attractive despite my disability and that, in itself, is ableist. It means my disability is ugly and yet, someway, somehow, I manage to still be cute. My disability is not an unattractive trait that my smile, breasts facial bone structure, or even personality, luckily for me, can overshadow. You would never tell an able-bodied person (or someone who is more privileged) that they’re ‘‘still’’ pretty because that’s just weird, it implies there is something wrong with them. Realistically, the full story of that ‘‘compliment’’ (which, really is not one) is this: usually, disabled people are ugly, but you aren’t, and furthermore, I will acknowledge that most people disagree with me, meaning most people find you unattractive, but I don’t’’. Some disabled people really are insecure and these types of comments are the ones that make them feel like they should just settle for anyone because it has this sense of urgency to it: ‘‘People don’t think you’re good enough but I do so you owe me attention/ love/ sex, etc’’. This is extremely toxic, stop it. Tell us we’re cute, handsome, attractive, beautiful. Period.
3. ‘‘You’re so strong!’’
I don’t want to be strong, I want to be protected. I want to be treated equally. I want to be in a place where I don’t have to be strong anymore because I’m no longer oppressed on the daily. On the same train of thought, stop telling us you could never live like we do or that you would end your life if you were disabled because that stuff is so traumatizing. Not only are you telling us our lives aren’t worth living and so why do we even bother, but also that you do not believe the world should be adapted to include us because our limitations are too large to be worth change. and that society should just give up on making accessibility a thing. Stop using the reality of disabled people in your ‘‘would you rather games’’, this is not hypothetical for me, this is my life and it will always be. Telling me I’m strong does not make me feel better about myself, at all, I would rather you telling me what you are doing to help disabled people so that they don’t have to be strong anymore, especially when a lot of the people telling me I’m strong do not provide me any type of emotional or financial support, and won’t even share my content. Telling me I’m strong and then disappearing does absolutely nothing for me or the disabled community so cut it.
4. Stop being a meaningless cheerleader
Let me explain. I am truly tired of the clapping hands emoji. The ‘‘YES GIRL, YOU ROCK!’’s when I am just posting a picture of myself in my story are weird, because I know you would not send that to an able-bodied woman posting a selfie. Stop telling me you ‘‘support me’’ when you don’t even read my articles or share my content. I say meaningless because I want to know what are you concretely doing to support the disabled community, and no, being in my dms, does not count, it’s useless. Furthermore, when I talk about my hardships as a disabled person, do not respond with ‘‘Nobody/ nothing is stopping you! Let’s go! I’m here for you!’’, again, this is useless, and it is literally gaslighting. Yes actually, there are people stopping me from doing certain things because they are not replacing stairs by elevators or ramps. And this goes back to the first point about Inspiration porn, able-bodied people will sometimes aggressively ‘‘encourage’’ disabled people when they are doing very normal things because if as disabled people we give up, we are no longer available for objectification. When we don’t crawl up a flight of stairs with our arms or if disabled children refuse to be used as photo props, able-bodied people can no longer objectify us and use us as Inspiration porn. Furthermore, this toxic positivity is nothing but that, toxic. When you tell us we constantly have to see the good side of the blatant discrimination we face, you are encouraging us not to ask for equality for your own benefit. Don’t tell me I should be happy to live in a tiny apartment out of my budget when I have no other options due to the fact that accessible housing is almost inexistant, knowing that you live in an apartment twice the size of mine while paying 2/3 of the price. Saying there are worst things in the world than not being able to go to the restaurant with friends because accessible public venues are so rare is toxic positivity. We are being discriminated against and you are not helping by telling us we should just shut up and take it. I am not a football player that you paid to see play and I am not a contestant on The Voice, I am not performing for you, I am living, and so no need to cheer for me, especially when it is only in the privacy of my dms because you know you would never want to publicly date me or ever want to ‘‘deal’’ with my disability in person.
5. ''How do/ can you have sex?''
I can understand that if someone has a body different to yours, you can curiously wonder how they navigate the world with it. However, it is simply inappropriate. This question is often asked to trans and queer people because we expect their sex life to be ''non normative'', but it is just as inappropriate. Disabled people don’t owe you a detailed list of how their most intimate moments occur and therefore, unless you are about to have sex with someone with a disability, it is not acceptable to ask such questions. If you are genuinely curious to a point where you cannot control yourself, you can subscribe to the OnlyFans of a disabled person or look for adult content on paying adult website where the content is controlled, and obviously where the creators are paid.
I am aware that most of these things don’t always come from a bad place, but this is the part of the text where I am brutally honest: I do not care about your intentions, at all. They are ableist and I don’t want to deal with them anymore. There are so many things you can do as an able-bodied person to help disabled creators and overall people and yet, it confuses me how much most of you won’t do any of them. If you read till the end, please, question yourself on what is it you do to deconstruct ableism, truly, for the well being of disabled folks and not in the selfish attempt to make yourself feel better. Treat us like you would treat an able-bodied person. Give us the same compliments, listen to our problems too, in brief, treat us like whole human beings, because that is what we are.
Things you can do to support disabled creators/people:
- Share, like and comment on their content, and subscribe to their platforms
- Read their content and watch their Youtube videos
- Financially support them with platforms such as Paypal, Patreon and OnlyFans
- Suggest disabled creators to your favorite podcast hosts to give them the opportunity to expand their reach
- Invite disabled people to your events, interview them and suggest collaborating with them (once you have made sure that those spaces will be accessible to them)
- Pay disabled people if they work for you and if possible, give them discounts if they are coming to you for services considering they are most likely financially marginalized
- Reach out to a disability advisor if you are putting together an event, a protest or building an establishment