I've found the last months really difficult, and this post is going to cover some of the incidents which have made things a lot harder for me. I've had to quit my job and take a leave of absence from university and this combined with various ableist incidents have really made me reflect on just how ableist the world can be and what I feel called to do about it.
At university many events are specifically designed with accessibility in mind, but there is still a great deal which is inaccessible to people with a range of needs. In the wider world, it is a lot worse especially for those of us with invisible disabilities.
Over the summer I attended a paid summer school in cyber security and unfortunately there were several incidents which made me seriously question whether I would want to work for this organisation in the future. I was very open about my disabilities when I applied and even had a assessment with an occupational therapist to see what my needs were. I know he provided a report to the people running the course so they were aware of my disabilities and needs. So far, so good. However the initial team building day was horrendous for me as it involved a lot of standing and moving about as well as some very loud activities.
When we went on a trip away, I was told there wouldn't be much walking, but there was more than I expected and I ended up in quite a lot of pain. I was then harassed by a member of staff for not walking fast enough, leaving me in tears. Despite raising this incident with the welfare contact and being told that what happened was unacceptable, I never received an apology from the person involved and I did not receive any further contact reagrding this incident from anyone running the course.
After this incident I was given the option of not going on the next excursion as it was likely to involve a lot more walking. I decided not to go, as I knew if I went I would most likely have a similar thing happen again as no adjustments to the activities were offered. I didn't feel supported in accessing the aspects of the activity that I would have been able to participate in and I feel I missed out on a day which others gained good memories and team building from.
Later on in the course, there was a further incident with a different member of staff who publicly humiliated me, after which I escaped to the toilets and had a panic attack. As well as these significant events there were many more microagressions from fellow students and staff alike, where ableist assumptions and comments were made.
I didn't get invited back to do another placement. As they didn't give feedback I have no way of knowing whether it was because my disabilities caused them too much inconvenience, some of my views made me unattractive, or just because I wasn't quite good enough in the interview process. Overall I was quite disappointed as I found the work very interesting and would have loved to go back, if it weren't for the pervasive ableism I'd experienced.
As I mentioned in a previous post I also travelled to Krakow in Poland for World Youth Day and whilst this was an amazing experience, I wasn't able to fully enjoy it because I spent most of it being utterly exhausted and in a lot of pain. There was a lot of walking and most of the time it just wasn't possible to use public transport because of the sheer number of people. The weather was very hot and I developed a rather severe heat rash on my feet, covering them in small painful blisters and causing my feet to swell up. I pushed myself hard, but I still had to miss many events and take time out to rest because of the pain and exhaustion.
I didn't feel as though my needs were taken into account enough, both in advance and whilst we were there, by group leaders and members of the group I was with. A lot of them are my good friends, and while they were sympathetic on the most part, I felt there was not always enough forward or creative thinking. It seemed assumed that young people would be able to walk long distances and stand for extended periods of time.
There is also a common impression I have gained at multiple religious events where your holiness seems to be measured by the distance you can walk or the amount of time you can spend on your knees worshipping. As someone who finds kneeling even more painful than walking it was quite discouraging to get this impression from people. I know they probably don't intend it, but when people insist that everyone should go on a pilgrimage which involves walking thousands of miles, I feel very alienated.
I assume these experiences are symptomatic of many workplaces and environments, and I can see this being something I am going to have to work to combat throughout my life. Whilst I am at university I have the opportunity to explore my limits and be supported in learning what my needs are. I am learning how to advocate for myself successfully and how to work with governing bodies to effect change.
Something that came up during my most recent counselling sessions was how talking about the activism I was involved in really made me come alive. I have always felt a very strong sense of justice and the need to rebel against rules for the sake of rules. I feel called to follow this and continue to fight for change in all areas of my life where I, and many others, face difficulties.
In order to make the world a less ableist place, we all need to stop and think about the assumptions we make about people's abilities. Just because someone looks or sounds a certain way doesn't mean that they can or cannot do something. Provide different options for people, different activities or different ways of doing something. Ask them what they would prefer to do, ask them if they have any needs that might need to be taken into account. Society plays a huge part in disabling people, and we have the power to begin breaking down these structures that are holding us back from being fully compassionate and thoughtful.