From Ableist to Disabled
Before being diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic arthritis at 16, I was ableist. I
genuinely believed that “ableism” was just the newest term in the social justice warrior
toolkit and that disabled people were fully included and accepted in society. After all,
they had their parking spaces and ramps, so what more could they possibly want, right?
Sometimes, it feels as though my diagnosis was a swift serving of karma. Let me be
clear, disabilities are not a punishment or a consequence, but in my experience, they
can be fantastic learning opportunities. Able-bodied individuals often forget that
disabilities can occur instantly, and that, in the words of disability rights activist Imani
Barbarin, “[disabled people are] the only marginalized group that you can join at any
Having lived most of my life as an able-bodied person holding ableist views, learning
how to live with my new disability shattered my long-held perception of the world and
how I saw myself fit into it. And honestly? It probably serves me right.
I began to understand the physical, emotional, and social toll that disabilities often
bring with them, and how these profound changes often go unseen and unheard.
Having chosen to keep my new diagnosis to myself, those around me had no clue how
my disability began to impact my life - the same way that before my diagnosis, I didn’t
understand why ableism was such a big deal.
We can never truly understand what a person is going through until we go through it
ourselves. However, that isn’t a free pass to write off the experiences of marginalized
groups. Instead, we should uplift the perspectives and experiences of these individuals
and ask ourselves how we can become better allies to the communities we will never
personally be a part of.
And when it comes to the disability community, becoming our ally and working
against ableism could be in your self-interest. After all, you never know if you’ll be our