Unlearning Ingrained Ableism

Last updated: December 2022

I'll be honest here- I didn't grow up around anyone with a disability. Growing up, classrooms in my school were segregated. I didn't know anyone who was disabled personally until it was my daughter.

I had never heard about ableism

I didn't know what ableism was or how it was perpetuated in society. I was oblivious to it. It wasn't until an encounter that I had at work shortly after having returned from maternity leave.

Telling my co-workers about my daughter's SMA

When I came back to work, I was faced with clients wanting updates on my daughter. Just two months before this she was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy type 1.

I would gauge how I would carry this conversation based on what I knew of the client but typically whatever I would say was met with "wow, I am so sorry" or just blank stares.

I made an assumption I shouldn't have

On a slow Saturday, I had a man in a wheelchair come in. We never really talked prior, but had a pleasant enough conversation.  After helping him, I walked him over to the door and opened it for him.

I thought I was being helpful but he took it otherwise. I assumed he couldn't open the door, I didn't ask. And he let me have it (rightfully so).

I ran back to my desk. Mortified. In tears.

I didn't want my daughter to feel this - ever

I never, ever wanted to make my daughter feel like I had made him. It hit me extremely hard.

Stella will, without a doubt face exact scenarios like this. When people see that she is in a wheelchair and assume that she cannot do something that she has done time and time again.

For my daughter's sake, I need to relearn and grow

After this interaction I became determined to unlearn the ableism that I had grown up with. I am still learning, every single day.

These are hard topics for parents to talk about but without conversation, we're not growing and changing.

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