Sunday, February 13, 2011

Able Privilege Checklist

I stumbled across the Thin Privilege Checklist today and practically fell over in glee. It's perfect, absolutely perfect, and it's based on the White Privilege Checklist by Peggy McIntosh, which is equally brilliant. I found several checklists of Able-Bodied Privilege here, here and here. However, I figured I'd have a go at it. Note that my checklist is written in the second person, as in "you" this, "you" that, because I am not able-bodied and feel that it would be a bit presumptuous for me to imply that I know what it is like to be Able and have Able privilege. If anything that I say in this checklist is misinformed or untrue, please feel free to contact me and we can discuss it. So.....without further ado, here is Spaz Girl's Able Privilege Checklist!

As an able-bodied person, every day:
  • You can get from point A to point B without worrying about how you are going to get there and how much energy each travel option will cost you.
  • You can say "I'm tired." and not be criticized for "always being tired".
  • You can get inside all buildings by the main entrance, and will never be forced to go around a sketchy back entrance or denied entrance to the building while others pour freely in and out of the main entrance.
  • You can go and come as you please, without everyone and their mothers knowing the meticulous details of where you are going and what you are doing.
  • You can blend into the crowd reasonably well and do not constantly feel like you have a neon sign over your head saying "different".
  • You can draw, cut, and do an assortment of motor-skill related things without putting much thought into it, and your final product probably will not look a kindergartener did it.
  • You can have privacy in the bathroom.
  • You can do something ordinary or out of the ordinary without being called "brave", "courageous", "special" or "an inspiration".
  • You can open a door without putting thought into how you are going to do it.
  • You can go out in public and will not be accosted by a variety of tired, cheap car jokes scuh as "Do you have a license for that thing?"
  • Parts of your body are usually not grabbed, touched, and pulled without your permission.
  • Parts of your body (or extensions of your body) are not referred to as "that thing".
  • You can easily step over bumps in the sidewalk, massive snow piles and other obstacles without having to have the concentration of a tightrope walker.
  • You can eat without the concentration of a tightrope walker and most of the food will end up in your mouth.
  • You can get your own food and carry it to your table without the concentration of a tightrope walker and will not be exhausted from the effort before even taking a single bite.
  • You know that you are not considered "abnormal".
  • Your mobility relies on the power of your legs, and your legs alone. As such, you will never be stranded somewhere because of a dead wheelchair/scooter battery.
  • You can look into people's eyes without having to crane your neck upwards.
  • You are not at the level of other people's butts.
  • You can go for an interview or other professional experience without fear of being judged on your perceived ability.
  • You can go out in public without being stared at and asked rude questions.
  • You do not live in fear of being institutionalized.
  • You are not told, directly or indirectly, that you are "too self sufficient".
  • Other people do not try to speak for you and you speak for yourself.
  • You are not made to feel, on a daily basis, by other people's attitudes, actions, and outside barriers, that you are not wanted and your opinion is not valued.
  • You can open a magazine, watch a TV show, or look at a textbook and see many diverse people of your ability represented.
  • You are not expected to be meek, passive, and perpetually grateful.
  • You rarely have to accept help and charity from other people.
  • It is not suggested, either implicitly or explicity, that you would be better off dead.
  • You do not feel like part of a dying species.
  • You can be pretty much positive that wherever you go, you will not be the only Able person.
  • You are not made to feel like a bad, lazy person for not pushing yourself to exhaustion.
  • In public, people talk to you, not the person you're with.
  • You can be out in public with another Able person without causing a disturbance simply by the presence of two of you.
  • People of your ability are usually in the majority.
  • When you go to a movie theater or concert, you can sit in any seat you want.

Feel free to add more and/or ask questions if something is unclear!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

On Bullying and Disability

I'm in the middle of writing a post about my experience at this year's Reelabilities Film Festival, but the words aren't coming to me lately. And another issue has come to my attention that is much more serious and that I feel I need to talk about.

In the past week, two of my friends have been the target of nasty, cruel, disablist/ableist cyber-bullying, one on Formspring, and one on Youtube. Needless to say, THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE. Although there has been much discussion about cyberbullying/bullying in the media lately, especially about bullying directed towards LGBTQ youth, there has been almost no discussion of the thousands, maybe even millions of youth that are the target of disablist/ableist bullying EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

I was bullied, both on and offline, throughout seventh, eighth, and even ninth grade. While most of the bullying wasn't strictly disability-related, I do think my disability played in a part in making me an appealing target for bullies. Bullies go for people with disabilities because there's this underlying assumption that we can't fight back. And certainly that is true to some extent. The idea of me ever being in a physical fight was (and still is) laughable. The most I could ever do is hit someone with a crutch, and the momentum of the swinging crutch plus not having a crutch to lean on would probably unbalance me so much I'd fall over. But never underestimate us, because someday, somehow, we will fight back. Just look at ADAPT and similar large disability organizations - how much change they've been able to enact, how they've fought back against obvious and latent disablism/ableism.

Some of the bullying I went through WAS disability-related, however. I will never forget one IM conversation with a classmate of mine who shall not be named. Out of the blue, she goes: "You thought you could get all the attention just because you have a disability." I was very hurt and completely shocked. I don't even think I responded to the IM, because I couldn't think of WHAT to say. I was also accused of "faking it" once. Although it wasn't to my face - because the girl was too much of a coward to accuse me to my face - I think the accusation went something like this: "She [me] walks fine, and then when people are around she pretends to fall." Once again, I was completely shocked and disgusted.

Why do people use disability as an excuse to bully people? I think because, similar to LGBTQ people being sensitive or closeted about their sexual orientation, especially in those middle school stages when admitting you're different is akin to social suicide, disability can be a sensitive spot. Our society indoctrinates people into thinking disability is badbadbad. In middle school and high school, all you want to do is fit in, and fitting in is very difficult when you get "special" accommodations. Even more difficult when you are "visibly" disabled, which is why a lot of kids with "mild" disabilities try to minimize their disabilities as much as possible. Disablist bullying reaches right into the deepest and darkest insecurities we have, the ones we'd never admit out loud when we're being crippled and proud, and says "You're not normal, and that's wrong." No matter how proud I am of being who I am, there are still my moments where I feel like a freak, and not in a good way.

Especially with "mildly"/"invisibly" disabled people and being accused of "faking it", I think that hits a particular nerve. Because I know all my life, deep in the back of mind, there's a little voice that's said: "Maybe they're right. Maybe you're just lazy, maybe you could do a lot more if you just tried harder. Maybe you could walk that extra block, maybe you could stand a little bit longer. Maybe you've exaggerated your CP all this time." So to have that voice sort of validated is never a pleasant thing. A post will be coming at some point about the unique issues those of us with mild/invisible disabilities face and how thin the line is between disabled and able-bodied is in some circumstances.

More so then any other type of bullying, disablist/ableist bullying is accepted in our society. Just like the heterosexual bias that is built into our society, there is also what can be called an "ability bias". It is assumed that everyone can (and does) walk, everyone can (and does) climb steps, everyone can (and does) drive. So disablism/ableism and disablist/ableist bullying often flies under the radar, because those with the social privilege of being non-disabled don't even consider a life that doesn't have that privilege. Words like "retard" and "cripple" (used derogatorily) don't carry the same weight, the same power, as, say, the n-word (even though they absolutely should). And because so many disablist terms are used as part of slang ("that's retarded", "I'm, like, OCD about it", "I feel so ADD", etc.), I think there's a general sense of kids-will-be-kids, and teachers and other authority figures are inclined to just brush it off. But words hurt. I know it sounds cliche, but it's true.

So what can you do if you or someone you know is the target of disablist/ableist bullying? First and foremost, speak up! Tell your parents, your teacher, your principal - whoever you feel comfortable with - until someone takes you seriously. If the bullying is occurring online, save everything and print it out. On AIM, I know there used to be an option to save your IM conversation as an .html file, I don't know if it exists anymore. If there's not a save option, highlight the whole conversation and copy and paste it into a word processing document. People will take you a lot more seriously if you have written evidence of the bullying, and it's a lot easier to show people the comments word for word instead of trying to paraphrase.

Try and avoid the bullies whenever possible (obviously). Take steps to ensure they can't bother you again. When I was cyber-bullied, I blocked the screennames of the kids who were harrassing me from my buddy list. Eventually, because of the cyber-bullying and other reasons, I created a new screenname entirely and was very careful about who I gave it out to. Only give your online screennames and usernames and whatnot to people you trust and who you know you are actually going to talk to. If people ask you for your screenname and you're uncomfortable saying no, give them a fake one, or give them an old one that you never use anymore. Delete your facebook/formspring/youtube account if you have to. You can always create a new one.

And most of all, surround yourself with positivity. As I recently said to a friend, the good people in this world far outnumber the stupid people. Surround yourself with friends and family, people who care about you and will always be there for you. When you've got that many great people around you, suddenly one or two bullies seem a lot less significant. If anyone reads this post and wants to share their experiences being bullied, feel free to comment or contact me privately at

And if anyone wants to head over to my friend Nicole's Youtube account, I highly encourage you to watch her awesome videos about living with a disability and leave her some POSITIVE comments for once! :)