Working with a disability in an ableist society
Chronic illness and shame: the disconnect between the healthy and the chronically ill
Working with a disability in an ableist society
Working with a disability in an ableist society is not easy. Here are four approaches to making an imperfect world work for disabled people.
Having a disability in an ableist society is not easy. The harsh truth is this: we live in an ableist society, and an ableist society is not a friendly place if you are disabled.
If you haven’t heard of ableism, it’s crucial that you understand what this term means. Ableism is “discrimination and social prejudice against people with disabilities.” Our world doesn’t cater to disabled people, whether these are physical issues or invisible ones, such as mental illness.
Read more: What is ableist language
As a disabled person, I can attest to the fact that society doesn’t care about the things that I need to create a life where I’m comfortable and able to function well. It’s commonplace for people to discriminate against those with disabilities; individuals often assume what we can or can’t do.
For people like me, it makes it excruciating to exist in an ableist society where my disability is viewed as a “problem.” Despite the societal deficits in accommodating disabled people, there’s hope that we can figure out how to navigate a world that doesn’t understand what we experience on a daily basis.
In an ableist society: advocate for yourself
Nobody can tell you what you want and need. Whether you have a disability or not, you know your needs better than anyone else. Be brave and communicate what accommodations you need to help you get through work or school. If you need accommodation, ask for it. There are legal repercussions if someone is unwilling to give you what you need. They’re violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA.) You have grounds to speak up and say what’s happening here. You deserve to get what you need, and you’re not asking for anything out of the ordinary to help you and your health.
You can only do what you can do in an ableist society
It’s frustrating when you’re in a situation where you’re expected to be able to do something, and you can’t. Many disabled people have experienced where they feel like they “should” be able to complete a task, but for whatever reason, they’re not able to do it. As disabled people, we’ve felt extreme guilt for being unable to do what other people can. You might feel depressed or defective because you can’t do it the way society wants you to, and your feelings are valid.
But here’s a secret you may not know, you can do it your way. You don’t have to complete a job like someone who is neurotypical or doesn’t have a disability. It is okay to be neurodivergent and wear neurodivergent clothing that tells people you are.
There are times that you won’t be able to do a job, take an academic class, or engage in the social activities of your family and friends; don’t be ashamed to tell people what you can’t do, and remember that there’s so, so much that you can do – don’t beat yourself up for what you can’t do.
Find and use your strengths
As a disabled person, I wonder why things are difficult for me. Tasks are inherently more challenging for us. I consider what’s harder for us and what we can’t do. Let’s shift our focus from what we can’t do to what we can accomplish. You have talents that other people don’t possess in this ableist society.
Maybe you’re like me and experience deep hyperfocus as a result of your ADHD that lets you get projects done at a rapid speed. Perhaps you’re incredibly empathetic, and you’re able to help people as a result of your disability. Find your strengths and use them. You’ll find that engaging in activities that emphasize what you’re good at doing makes you feel a sense of pride.
An ableist society is said to be one that treats non-disabled individuals as the standard of ‘normal living’, which results in public and private places and services, education, and social work that are built to serve 'standard' people, thereby inherently excluding those with various disabilities.
Make the ableist society work for you
Once you find your strengths, you’ll feel good about yourself, and you can look for opportunities to use those talents even within an ableist society. There are many possibilities for you to shine in this world, although it’s not designed for us.
You’ll see that you’re capable and you have unique qualities to offer others and the world. Our society is ableist, which is a huge problem we must continue to fight collectively. As we continue that battle against ableism, let’s show the world (and ourselves) what we have to offer, and there’s so much we’re ready to share.
The harsh truth is this: we live in an ableist society, and an ableist society is not a friendly place if you are disabled.
Sarah, the author of "Working with a disability in an ableist society," is a native New Yorker who enjoys naps, talking to strangers, and caring for her two small humans and two average-sized cats. Like six million other Americans, Sarah lives with Bipolar type II, OCD, ADHD, and PTSD