Opinion

On Ableism and Things We Need to Stop Saying to People with Disability

Discrimination is still a problem that we face in modern society. And while we’re already familiar with racism, sexism, and religion discrimination, disabled people also have to face discrimination. Ableism is a form of dicrimination against disabled people, including the expression of hate for disabled people, and making the non-disabled people feeling superior to the disabled. It might not be much discussed like other kind of discriminations, but it doesn’t mean that it’s not happening out there. Some people, included me, sometimes don’t even realize that they’re being ableist because it’s been happening in our society for too long to the point where it’s considered normal. Do you remember how many times you’ve used the word “retarded” to call your friends who don’t have developmental disability, or use the word “deaf” to call your friends who don’t really have hearing problem? Well, that’s just one example.

When I was a kid, I was used to hearing some people, mostly kids in my surrounding using offensive words to mock my sister. They literally called her “hey, deaf” in a derogatory terms without a second thought, without even realizing how offensive it is. Maybe they’re too little to even understand it. Maybe their parents never taught them about that. Maybe they didn’t mean to hurt my sister (even though I doubt that). Maybe our society tends to normalize the action. Hey they’re just kids, don’t be too sensitive, don’t take their words to your heart, bla bla bla.

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And now that I’m an adult, I thought I’d never have to deal with people who say offensive things to me about my sister. I don’t mind to share about my sister’s condition, especially to those who are close to me or going to be a part of my life, well you know what I mean. But there was one question that I found quite offensive coming from him when he asked me whether my sister’s disability was inherited by my family or not. He’s scared that our baby will have the same disability because it would be such an embarrassement for his parents. Wow that’s a pretty acid remarks. I honestly will never, ever, ever tolerate that kind of thinking. It’s okay if you don’t want to have disabled kids, but you should know that we can’t choose how our kids condition is gonna be like. Considering that having a disabled kids as such an embarrassent is actually an embarrassment itself. I can’t stand ableist. And once again, I CANNOT tolerate that.

Ableism is not always about using offensive words, it’s also about questioning why or how someone became disabled, as though you’re entitled to know what happened to them. It’s pretty much their own personal business and it’s completely up to them to share it or not. Well, it’s human nature to be curious about something that appears to be different than you, but it’s never okay to constantly ask them about that. Some people might like to share it with others, that’s okay. Some other might not feel comfortable to tell you what happened to them because it reminds them of traumatic events, and that’s okay too. 

My family choose to share what happened to my sister in the hope that it can give insight to others about what happened to her. My sister is deaf since she was a baby due to severe influenza that she had when she was only 2 days old. Apparently, it affected the nerves that facilitate hearing. Who would have thought that influenza can lead to a hearing loss? That’s why my family always like to share about our experience, just so people know that it’s not always about genetic, it can be due to illness, or traumatic events, and other factors.

Deaf is one of invisible disabilities. You won’t notice it unless there’s a communication between you two. My sister knows a lot of words and she can understand what she reads. She can read the menu and order her food so you don’t always have to explain what’s written unless she asks you. This is actually something that I learnt from her. There was time when I explained her something and she said “I know!” angrily. I used to assume that she didn’t know any complicated words. I assumed that she didn’t know about nowadays issue that’s happening in this country. Assuming that she isn’t capable of doing something by herself is just so wrong. And assuming that she’s amazing for being able to do something because she is a disabled person is considered as ableism too. “wow I can’t believe you can participate in a running competition, I mean you’re deaf, how would you know when to run?”. Ugh, seriously?

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Just like other parents who are proud with all the achievements of their children, I’m also proud to see how my sister now has grown into an active girl who loves dancing, sewing, and participating in running competition. My dad and I watched her performing dance for International Day of People with Disability last December on Prambanan Temple. We also supported her on running competition last week. After all, I want people to focus to see her –and any other disabled people– as a person rather than someone with a disability.

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