Ableism — prejudice towards those that are physically handicapped or neuroatypical — is an interesting form of discrimination, in that its visibility is painfully clear but the ability to address it is minimal. It reaches to even the highest office in the land, most recently with President Donald Trump’s comments regarding the Special Olympics. According to the New York Daily News, Trump stated that when he watched it from the White House, he found it “a little tough to watch too much, but [he] watched as much as [he] could.”
While ableism does have physical manifestations — despite most major facilities having accommodations for these — there has been a lack of progression when it comes to fighting the less noticeable aspects of ableism.
For one, mental illness is very much a part of the conversation. It may not immediately come to mind at the mention of the word, but ableism happens with more than just physical limitations. Accommodations for those struggling with autism, ADD/ADHD, anxiety and other illnesses are still struggling to catch up, and many aspects of modern living are not compatible or supportive for those with mental illness. Schools still struggle with students who are less able to stay focused, physical health is stressed over mental self-care, and much of the public is still uneducated about how mental illness manifests itself. This lack of education creates a divide between those struggling and those who are unaware, and can prevent others from opening up about their experiences with their mental health.
Another issue that has yet to be addressed is the lack of support for disabled athletes and artists. Olympic athletes receive far more news coverage and rewards for their ability to compete compared to athletes that participate in the Special Olympics. Most of this bias can be plainly seen as a judgement of ability — why not watch the games where athletes aren’t challenged by certain physical characteristics? The fact is is that for many of these athletes, they are bringing their best game to the arena and presenting their talents regardless of their limitations. If anything, disabled athletes and artists show more resolve and commitment, and their efforts and successes should be weighed the same.
If there’s one thing that must be taken into account if we are to address the lingering issues surrounding ableism, it’s pity or false praise. We should be thankful for the contributions of those who are handicapped, and see them as people experiencing different circumstances rather than something to be treated or cured. If we are to be better allies to handicapped or neuroatypical persons, we should remain more vigilant for unconscious ableism and how it affects our judgements of others.