December 3rd is my third International Day of People with Disability(IDPWD).
Technically it’s my twenty-sixth, but it’s the third one since I was made aware of my disability that’s been present since birth. I’m autistic and I didn’t find out until I was nearly 30.
Every year since I woke up to the existence of my differently wired brain, I’ve sat down to write a blog post to commemorate another year gone by. In 2016, I hosted an event at my then workplace and I gave a talk sharing my story so far with colleagues and external guests and published its transcript as a blog post. In 2017, I wrote a blog post reflecting on the year that was.
This year, I felt a little stuck. I didn’t know what to write. I wasn’t struck by any flashes of inspiration and I’m not the same person I was a year ago. My thinking has matured and I’ve come along way, but I’ve also seen more of the things I really wish I and other disabled people didn’t have to see.
I’ve seen, heard and experienced a lot of bad things. I’m living in a world that wasn’t designed for my differently wired brain among people who would have my invisible disability changed, fixed, removed or even completely wiped off the face of the planet.
I looked up this year’s theme of empowering persons with disabilities and ensuring inclusiveness and equality but it didn’t really speak to me. I found it to be a bit vague and overly high level. To me, it reads as though someone mashed together what should have been the beginning of three separate themes.
Honestly, all I’ve been thinking lately is why can’t people just stop?
Why can’t people just stop being so damn cruel to each other?
Why as human beings do so many of us feel the need to exclude and abuse disabled people? Why don’t we see this as a problem? And don’t say we do, because I can’t seem to make it through a single day unscathed.
Round and around and around we go.
If this is the world, then someone hit the brakes because I’m climbing off this carousel and running away to build my own. If this ableist and neurodiverse-shunning society wants to join me and all the other inclusive people who understand and practice the basic concepts of kindness and equality, here’s what you need to stop doing.
Stop telling disabled people how to refer to themselves. It’s their life and their choice — respect it. And on that note…
Stop telling disabled people that they can’t use the word disabled. And stop coming up with PC palatable alternatives — no, I’m not ‘differently-abled’, I don’t have ‘diffability’,and I definitely wasn’t ‘touched by autism’!
Stop refusing to believe people when they tell you they have a disability just because you can’t see it.
Stop buying into disability stereotypes and stop allowing them to guide your interactions and beliefs. Think for yourself!
Stop telling me that my autism doesn’t define me. It does and in the most positive way possible. You’re only saying that because you see it as an affliction or because you don’t fully understand it.
Stop arguing with disabled people over the validity of their experiences. Just stop talking and listen to what they have to say.
Stop empathising with people who make ableist comments. No, it’s not OK to say that they ‘were just trying to help’ or they were ‘just being curious’ or that maybe they were ‘just having a bad day’. All you are doing is tearing us down and marginalising us even further. And besides, it is possible to be helpful, curious and have a bad day without being an ableist jerk.
Stop trolling the tweets, blog posts and all other content from disabled people. You’re not funny, interesting or relevant. That’s right, go ahead and delete your comment thread because you know what you did. While you’re feeling ashamed, I’m sitting here thinking it’s a real shame that you will never fully comprehend why what you did was wrong.
Stop viewing some disabilities as more worthy of your support and respect than others. It’s not OK to openly support one type of disability and then turn around and tell an autistic person that they need to ‘fix’ their neurological differences because they’re apparently annoying you. It’s hypocritical for you to think you can just pick and choose.
Stop laughing, groaning and rolling your eyes when someone says the word ‘Asperger’s’ onstage at a conference. My brain isn’t a punchline and I can assure you, the presenter wasn’t making a joke.
Stop violating the dignity and privacy of your disabled family members by telling stories about how hard they’ve made your life and what those experiences have done to enhance your resilience as part of your elevator pitch.
Stop viewing disabled people as ‘tragic’. I don’t want your want pity — being autistic is awesome! It’s your attitudes and behaviours that are the real tragedy here.
Stop sending hate mail to disabled people when they call you out for your ignorant, arrogant and just plain bad behaviour.
Stop shouting from the rooftops about how inclusive your organisation is because you had a morning tea. For one, the blue puzzle pieces that you decorated your office with are not even remotely inclusive and two, actions are much more important than posting cake pictures on instagram.
Stop turfing resumes and job applications from disabled people the second you find out they don’t fit into your corporate cookie cutter ideals. We are just as talented, experienced and skilled as our abled counterparts and we deserve an equal shot. Same goes for promotions and development opportunities. Stop writing us off.
Stop telling grassroots disabled activists that they have nothing to say and are not worth listening to because they’re not ‘famous’ like other activists out there giving TED talks, winning awards and getting movies made about their lives. All voices matter.