Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Don't Enable An Ableist:BADD 2008

Ableism hurts. It can be subtle, like when a customer behind me assumes because I'm in a wheelchair that I can't be in line by myself, or like a sledgehammer, when someone assaults you because you're paralyzed and can't fight back. It can result in discrimination in housing and employment. Ableist attitudes are behind the resistance to providing access to people with disabilities and other social changes that would result in fuller inclusion of us in society.

When some people do or say ableist things, there are those who enable them in various ways. Sometimes it's even the person with a disability, when we apologize to an ableist who treats us badly and insists on us backing down from our position. I have a term for it: enableists.

It can sound like this.

"You just refused to show me an apartment because I have a disability?"

"Absolutely. I don't need the hassle," says the ableist landlord, openly breaking the law.

Upon hearing this, a typical enableist will chime in with "Well, you can't expect Mr./Mrs Ableist to want a tenant with a disability. It does present problems" or "Maybe you should just look at another apartment " or if you point out that kind of discrimination is illegal, an enableist will say "You can't expect other people to know all about disability stuff." (Oh yeah, those silly anti-discrimination laws!)

Yes, enableists continue to enable some ableists to say they don't want to make an accommodation or serve a customer with a disability. And when the ableists offer an excuse, the enableist inevitably helps them come up with more. The enableist seems to jump into the fray to calm the ableist down. Yes, yes by all means, let's keep the status quo. Why should the ableist change, they ask the person with a disability?

Enabling an ableist is just as wrong as being an ableist. It encourages them. It not only makes excuses for them, but it gives them an out and solidifies their sense of entitlement, as if it's okay for them to discriminate against a whole group of people. Enabling ableists sends them a message that it's optional and up to them whether they deal with their ableist attitudes and ways - without facing consequences.

A sure sign that you're dealing with an enableist is that you are left feeling as if you've done something wrong after you've asserted your rights in a reasonable way. And yet, as the chorus of ableist-enableist-ableist-enableist goes on, our voices as people with disabilities seem to get lost in the fray. It's as if a sideshow is going on, completely tangential to the fact that we can't use a restroom, for example, that is All About the Ableist. Poor ableist, the enableist says, as we roll down three blocks in the wintry cold to use an accessible bathroom. This accommodation would cost so much. Why are you asking him/her to do that? Why are you making such a big deal out of it? Poor ableist, says the enableist, after he/she embarrasses us with an inappropriate ableist remark at a social function. Why did you have to point that out?

I guess the answer is: because those of us who do aren't enableists.

{written for Blogging Against Disablism Day 2008}


David said...

Right on, Ruth!! Enablists are just as bad as ableists.

ismith said...

Very well said. This has to be my favorite part of BADD - seeing ideas that maybe I had the beginnings of, but hadn't yet been able to conceptualize or verbalize.

Lady Bracknell said...

Oh, good point!

You may want to prepare youself for being extensively plagiarised... ;-)

Anonymous said...

Nice job as always Ruth! Hope you're having a great day, take care.

RADAR said...

Well said!


Never That Easy said...

You know what's even worse? The enablist voice in my own head: Definitely gotta get a muzzle on her. ("Oh how can I ask people not to wear perfume just so that I can come to the party too?" should be immediately banned from my thoughts, for example.)

seahorse said...

This is so new to me I will have to read it quite a few times, but that's what I love about BADD. Extending and developing understanding :-)

Ruth said...

Thanks so much for your comments, everyone - I'd say more but I'm tuckered out from commenting 'round the blogosphere :)

Anonymous said...

Oh, huzzah! (I suppose the opposite of "enableist" would be "troublemaker" ... a label I've always been proud to claim. *grin*)

cripchick said...

i had never heard of the word enable used in this way and love how it fits the type of people who support ableists, racists, and other forms of silent oppressors. i was telling a friend the other day that i hate the word enable--- to me it's always been used by a nondisabled person to say a disabled person doesn't need a certain accommodation or that services shouldn't be provided to a group of people. i'm glad to hear it used in a way that is different from the one i know.

Arkanabar Ilarsadin said...

I am of the opinion that I do not have any "positive" rights -- my misfortunes do not require others to give me things I have not earned, except in restitution for harm done to me. Why do yours?

In particular, if the accomodations your disabilities require are costly enough to crush the business in question (and yes, that does happen), in what way have you or the rest of us benefitted from requiring them?

Anonymous said...

Oh, gad, this is something I fight within myself ALL THE TIME. One wishes to be reasonable, you know. On the other hand, one also gets very sick of always having to be the one to be reasonable, which seems always to be defined as caving in to the laziness of other people. One gets sick of being accused of "making a scene" every time one objects to little things like lack of access or being seen as an object of admiration and yet also a profound inconvenience. Argh.

Enableism. Thank you. I will keep this word in mind to help me fight my own weakness.

Ruth said...


Several things I want to address that are misconceptions about people with disabilities.

The Americans with Disabilities Acts has built-in protection for those who are required by law to provide access that gives them an "out" if they cannot afford to do it. Your "crushed" language is therefore inaccurate. I know many business owners with small business who still do not provide access and go through this built in loophole. In fact, I pass right by their doors.

One other thing I'd like to address is that I do not see my disability as a misfortune.

And I have to get back to work today since I work seven days a week to pay for all those things you seem to think someone is giving me.

Anonymous said...

I like this idea of enablist because I've seen this happen over and over. I also agree not to back off when someone gets in your face about this stuff. Explain, but don't back off, apologize or buy into their prejudices against you.

Anonymous said...

I just want to say that I'm a Catholic who used to read your blog. No more.

We live in hard times and for you to encourage people to hit up businesses just so a few people can get inside or use a bathroom or live where they want to is ridiculous. Where does all this stop?

Accept that your disabilities limit you and that's part of the cross you have to carry. Until you do that I will no longer be reading your blog and I hope other Catholics do the same.

Ruth said...

anonymous: I do wish you'd left your name because addressing anonymous comments always makes me wonder if they were left by a teenager.

However, since you raise the argument that promoting inclusion for people with disabilities, including access to the community and full participation in community life is somehow not a "Catholic thing" , let me refer you to the 1978 USCCB Pastoral letter which promotes the same principles which is located at:

It has been 20 years since the US Bishops Conference issued this statement.

Please note they promote inclusion in ALL community life, not just in churches. The USCCB also stands behind legislation promoting independent living in the community for people with disabilities. This cannot be achieved without reasonable accommodations including access.

Disabilities don't have to limit people. The disability is not the problem as much as attitudinal barriers and societal barriers.

As a fellow Catholic (if you are), I must say comments from Catholics who oppose inclusion embarrass me in front of my friends with disabilities. I wish more Catholics who do support inclusion had commented here because I know they are out there. But, much as in real life, those who oppose our rights to be part of community life are more outspoken.

Anonymous said...

I want to address the comments left here by a few Catholics. I don't know why you think you stand for all Catholics but you don't. Ruth is correct on her position that the church promotes inclusion in the community as well as churches.

Reasonable people can agree to disagree on some points, but a threat to boycott is uncalled for.

Meredith Gould said...

Catholics are "catholic" and that means inclusion, as in, "All Are Welcome." This is a core principle of Catholic Christianity or, to translate for teens, "duh."

Anonymous said...

Anon, I do believe you've gotten your analogies mixed up. It's not so much that disability is analogous to the Cross. Rather, ableism and the barriers is creates are directly analogous to placing stumbling blocks before the blind. (Or, y'know, putting stairs in front of the wheelchair user.)

And if I recall correctly, the doctrinal view of that is quite clear. No?

Kay Olson said...

Being an "enableist" is a bit like failing to be an ally, I think. Thanks for showing me another way to look at it.