I have experienced many things in the reading communities I am a part of and not all of them have been wholeheartedly positive. Reading communities, like every other community on the internet often have a certain amount of toxicity. As the reading community is made up of so many different kinds of people, there would definitely be amounts of various things that are problematic in internet communities including: racism, sexism, homophobia, misgendering and transphobia, insults and various other forms of discrimination. But I think one of the worst forms of discrimination I have seen in the reading community is ableism. Ableism is alive so much in the reading community and it comes in the form of 'listening to audiobooks is not reading' and 'e-readers are not real books' or even 'reading on e-readers is not really reading'. I find this behaviour disgusting.
What is Ableism?
Ableism is stating discrimination against someone who is disabled in any way. This can be a physical disability like being in a wheelchair or this can be a mental disability like autism. Any form of discrimination against someone who has a harder life due to their disability is ableism and it is absolutely dehumanising as someone who has experienced it.
Why is ableism harmful?
Ableism is harmful because it erases the existence of disabled human beings. It upholds systems that benefit people who are well and able but it also disregards the needs and requirements for disabled people, therefore making it more difficult for them to live or express themselves in interactions of life.
Who are the main perpetuators of ableism?
From what I have seen and various statistics online, middle class, middle-aged white women are more likely to perpetuate ableism than any other demographic online. This is mainly due to circumstance as well as demographics. Circumstance states that these types of women would have been less likely to come into contact with a disabled person before and demographic shows that more of these women congregate in reading communities online. But, this in turn would have an influence over the whole community because of their numbers and possibly influence other people not part of that demographic to think the same way. This is why it is a problem that needs to be stopped.
Ableism in the reading communities online
Ableism is not only alive and well in reading communities online but it is also prevalent without backlash. It seems like stating that blind people should not be able to read in the form of 'audiobooks are not real books' or 'listening to an audiobook does not count as reading a book' is perfectly normal and acceptable. It is not.
The Rise of the Audiobook and the E-Reader
The hard of sight have been a group marginalised in literature communities for a long time. As I am partially blind myself, sometimes I find it easier to read on my Kindle or listen to the audiobook whilst I am reading so that I don't accidentally miss anything due to my sight loss. This is mostly true of novels where the print on the copy I have is too small for me to see and so, whenever buying books, I have to make sure that the text size is good enough for my vision. Not just that, but I have to check the font as well - some fonts confuse my sight.
Many times I have seen terms online perpetuated by these demographics of discrimination such as:
"Listening to audiobooks does not count."
Now, my sight may not be as bad as other people's but I would support in any way a blind person reading via audiobook than giving up because of what this comment infers.
This comment is extremely harmful as it erases the disabilities of people who maybe don't just have blindness or partial blindness, but it also comes off as against people who possibly don't have good use of their hands for whatever reason. The people who have disabilities who are being excluded from the communities because of comments like this being one of the main discourses in the comments are many. This can produce a lack of belonging and therefore, communities can lack diversity in all kinds of life. This means that the community becomes filtered and lacks different opinions on topics but also that the younger demographics of that community possibly do not get the interaction with the disabled people due to their sidelining in the community.
Be quick to call out this comment.
"You should buy real books, not E-Readers."
This one is wholeheartedly harmful and I am not sure whether the person stating it knows that it is an ableist thing to say since it is so obvious as to what e-readers are used for.
E-Readers can do alot. They can make text bigger, a different font and sometimes even look up words for you that you do not understand. Apart from that though, they can make the words appear clearer than they might be in a physical book. Again, we are looking at the hard of seeing and finding out how the line above impacts them in a negative way. Telling people what they should and should not do is not only assuming that you know who they are, but you are also assuming dominance over that person. This self-importance mixed with the comment of ableism results in the disabled people being left out, sidelined and often even bullied out of the communities.
It is very easy to see how this comment can be harmful and you see this behaviour, you must call it out.
Again, we need to start calling out this kind of behaviour because if we don't it will become worse and worse. Thanks to younger people getting into reading and having wider views on how ableism is harmful to everyone and needs to be stopped, the younger generations are not making the same mistakes and seeking to be anti-discrimination. But there is still a lot of work to be done so, it would help everyone if you could stand up with us against comments on these lines. Audiobooks and e-readers are there to help people who cannot read any other way and they are there for able people to enjoy. They are not there to be discriminatory tools in stating that someone 'cannot read in (A) way'. It is not acceptable behaviour.