Ableism: Discrimination Against Disabled People by The Wheelchair Teen

The act of writing forces us to contemplate things more deeply and to question what we believe. Bloggers, novelists, all writers lay ourselves bare when we publish. When we communicate our passions, readers are challenged to think — and they challenge us!

Thank goodness for the world of blogging (and podcasting), a Utopian alternate universe where anyone with access to a smartphone or computer, along with the internet, can send their unfiltered voices all over the world.

Without blog-topia, I would never have stumbled across a blog called, “The Wheelchair Teen – My life as a black, disabled teenager.” There she lets us into her often fun, sometimes heartbreaking life. With good humor and patience, she teaches everyone to live with joy and compassion…

The Wheelchair Teen in her wheelchair.
The Wheelchair Teen in her wheelchair.

Ableism: Discrimination Against Disabled People by The Wheelchair Teen

Hello, everyone! I’m The Wheelchair Teen and I write about my life as a black, disabled teenager. I’ve been disabled ever since I was born and a permanent wheelchair-user since the age of thirteen. I’m British but currently residing in the Netherlands with my parents and sister. Thank you so much to da-AL for allowing me the chance to write a guest post for her incredible blog to help me spread my message of equality for all disabled people. If you want to see more of me you can find me at my blog called, The Wheelchair Teen – My life as a black, disabled teenager.

Ableism is the term for discrimination against disabled people, but unlike other forms of discrimination, it isn’t viewed as negatively. Most people don’t get educated about disabilities and remain ignorant. It’s therefore harder to get angry at people when they act ableist towards me — they honestly don’t know any better. So, when I encounter ableism, I sort of just have to deal with it and let it slide  and it’s exhausting, alienating, and something I shouldn’t have to face. Ableism is everywhere, and until people start to educate themselves more about disabilities, it’s something I’ll have to continue to deal with in almost every aspect of my life. Here are the five main ways that I feel othered in society as well as things that you can do to educate yourself and help to end ableism:

  1. People treat me differently

Sometimes adults talk slowly to me or avoid addressing me by talking to whoever’s next to me when discussing me. People pick up my limbs and move them for me without my permission or make offensive assumptions. At school, I was often alone because students were unsure how to treat someone like me and would therefore ignore me altogether. People stare, point, or talk loudly and rudely about my body in front of me and assume that I can’t understand. Little children occasionally even run screaming from me when I’m in my electric wheelchair. All of this makes me feel extremely isolated, alienated, alone, and othered  and that’s not even mentioning the different ways buildings and companies discriminate against me when I leave the house or go on trips. I’ve been turned away from places that claim to be wheelchair-accessible and discriminated against by employees.

Photo of The Wheelchair Teen's electric wheelchair.
My electric wheelchair.

I talk a lot on my blog about inspiration porn which is the objectification of disabled people as two-dimensional objects of inspiration. People treat us like we only exist to inspire people. I’ve had absolute strangers pass me on the street and tell me that I’m their hero. In fact, most people either assume that my life is awful and therefore treat me with pity or treat me like I’m a superwoman simply for waking up every morning like everyone else. In reality, my life is pretty sweet. The most difficult part about my life is actually how I’m treated in society  not my actual disability. I know this isn’t the case for everyone but you shouldn’t instantly assume it’s not. I’ve been disabled for as long as I can remember  I can handle it, it’s ableism that’s the major issue for me.

  1. They don’t teach about us in school

More education about disabilities is key in our fight to help combat ignorance. I’m certain that if my classmates had known how to treat someone like me, they wouldn’t have been so hesitant to approach me. Also, if children knew more about disabilities there’d be less pointing and staring as if they’ve never seen someone like me before, not to mention the children that ran from me terrified. Libraries should include picture books about disabilities and we should be mentioned in every diversity class along with other minorities.

Photo of The Wheelchair Teen giving a presentation about disabilities to children at a primary school.
Me giving a presentation about disabilities to children at a primary school.

Ignorance can be deadly: it is estimated that between 33-50% of police violence happens against people with a disability (although it’s hard to tell because it’s rarely recorded for statistics). I cried while reading through all of the cases of police shooting disabled people that they had been called to help in the first place. It’s a serious problem that not enough people are talking about. The police force needs to be better educated when it comes to handling disabled people – whether it’s shooting a deaf person because they couldn’t hear the police telling them to stop, or firing at someone with a condition that makes it incapable for them to stand still and raise their hands. They must be held accountable and taught that their behaviour is unacceptable. And these cases need to be reported and receive the same attention as any other police brutality case.

  1. There’s no one like me on screen

Disabled people are the biggest minority in the world with around one billion people around the planet being disabled. Despite this, we have one of the lowest amounts of representation in films and TV. Only 2.3% of speaking characters in films are disabled. Growing up, I used to think I was strange because I hardly ever saw anyone like me on TV – and I wasn’t the only one. We’re talking about representation in media as low as 1% for a minority that is around 20% of the world.

Photo of The Wheelchair Teen with her hand over her mouth and the words: “Stop stifling disabled voices in media” on them.
Me with my hand over my mouth and the words: “Stop stifling disabled voices in media” on them.

95% of disabled roles are played by non-disabled actors, which is unacceptable! Able-bodied actors are critically acclaimed and win numerous awards for pretending to play a disabled person – but a lot of their performances (from the perspective of a disabled person) border on imitation and mockery. By not getting actual disabled actors to play these roles, you alienate disabled people by making them seem like mystical beings that cannot appear on screen, that can only be mimicked and impersonated. I’m not a ‘challenging acting feat’ – I’m a real person.

Meanwhile, real disabled actors struggle to get hired because people would rather see famous actors curl their fingers, twist their legs, tilt their heads, and pretend to be us for another guaranteed Oscar-nominee feel-good film. Filmmakers don’t want the real thing – they just want their own version of it, which audiences will then mistakenly believe is reality. I dream of a future where able-bodied actors playing disabled roles is seen just as negatively as actors playing other minorities when they don’t share their experiences.

  1. No one celebrates disability day

While throngs of people and numerous corporations celebrate International Woman’s Day, Pride Day, and Black History Month, the International Day of Disabled Persons goes under a lot of people’s radar. There is honestly so much beauty in being disabled, there’s so much to celebrate, and so many rights that still need fighting for. Help to raise awareness about disabilities by educating yourself and spreading the love this third of December. 

The Disabled Teen having fun in front of a carnival wall.
The Disabled Teen having fun in front of a carnival wall.

Like other minorities, multiple people throughout history have fought for the rights of disabled people. One day I was sitting in a history class at school when I realised that I knew about the suffragettes who had fought for my right to vote as a woman and the incredible civil rights activists who fought for my equality as a black person, but I knew nothing about the people who had fought for my rights as a disabled person. I did some research about disability history and I was so proud to see all of the people who had stood up for people like me. Their stories deserve to be taught in schools and history classes too. They deserve to be remembered.

  1. Disabled representation is awful

We’ve all seen disabilities used as plot devices: like the disabled or scarred villain who has a disability to show their dark, twisted mind or past on their bodies in a physical way; the action character with a child who has asthma so that tension can be built in the film when the main character has to rush to get the inhaler at a critical moment; the protagonist who ends up in a wheelchair in their weakest moment but manages to walk again once they continue to believe in themselves. And we’re all sick of it.

A disabled character created by The Wheelchair Teen for a comic.
A disabled character I created for a comic.

A few weeks ago, I burst out crying after watching a show with a character in a wheelchair that wanted to end their own life. It had been the THIRD show/film I’d seen in a row with a character in a wheelchair that wanted to do this. How can this be a theme in so many films with disabled representation? What kind of message does this send to people like me? If this is the only kind of thing a disabled person sees – what do you think they would start to believe? It made me angry. It made me feel like society thought that I’d be better off dead. Disabled people go through enough without having to put up with these types of horrible representations. (In most of them, disability was not the main focus of the show – it was just a side storyline. One was a comedy series, one was an anime, the other a romance film). I can’t believe that we’re still at this point when it comes to representation.

I’d love to see more casual disabled representation where character’s disabilities aren’t the focus of their entire existence – where they’re treated like normal characters that don’t even need to be the main focus of the story, representation where they aren’t healed at the end so people don’t think you can’t have a ‘happily ever after’ with a disability, intersectional representation where disabled characters can also be black or be members of other minorities, representation where their disability isn’t due to an accident – they’re merely born that way, etc. I’m currently working on creating a comic book about a team of disabled superheroes. It’s set in a sci-fi, Afrofuturistic world so there’s plenty of intersectional representation in it.  

Most importantly, I hope that disabled people are consulted while creating such a work. People praise films like Me Before You or Music until they hear from the actual disabled people that the film is representing and realise that they’re outraged at the bad representation. You can’t ignore the community when you make or watch films like this. Nothing for us without us. 

What can you do to help end ableism?

  1. Educate yourself and others

I recently started working on a story with disabled characters and I had to do a lot of research for it. I learnt so many new things like: the correct way to refer to certain disabilities, terms that are actually found offensive within the community, ways to make yourself easier to lip-read when talking to a deaf person, wheelchair etiquette, things that are okay to ask and things that may be rude, basic phrases in sign language, not to interact with guide dogs when a blind person is using them, etc. Education is key, I teach people about disability and even I still have a lot to learn.   

  1. Watch and read more disabled representation

There needs to be more outrage about films and books that go out of their way to discriminate against the disabled community and more attention for the ones that don’t. Read more books written by disabled authors and watch more films and tv-shows with us in them. Listen to our stories, we’ll show you that we’re much more than 2d objects of inspiration or pity.

  1. Support disabled content creators 

Apps like Tik Tok were found deliberately preventing videos with disabled people in them from going viral. More attention for disabled content creators means more normalisation of disabilities for their followers. I’m not the only one out there sharing about life with a disability. Also, add subtitles to your videos and captions to your pictures to make your posts more accessible for disabled followers.

Research citation: https://www.forbes.com/sites/joewalsh/2021/05/18/new-york-ags-investigation-into-trumps-business-turns-criminal/?sh=7ed291937332 

What do you think about media depictions of disabled people?

139 thoughts on “Ableism: Discrimination Against Disabled People by The Wheelchair Teen

  1. Reblogged this on The Wheelchair Teen and commented:
    Hey, guys! Around two weeks ago, I wrote a guest post for Da-AL’s blog Happiness Between Tails about ableism. In the post, I mention a few things I’ve never talked about on my own blog like: the disturbingly high percentage of police violence against disabled people, how insulting it can be to see able-bodied actors playing disabled characters, and international disability day. I know most people have already read it by now, but if you haven’t, I highly recommend that you pop on over and check it out!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. After working for 10 years with many disabled woman, two with cerebral palsy and in a wheelchair, I have seen the way the disabled are treated. I took one gal shopping and they insisted on checking her for stolen items….REALLY! I could write a book on the things I have seen so I can only imagine what this beautiful young lady has been through. People can be ignorant but don’t let that discourage you!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Since you’ve spent so much time with disabled women, you probably understand more than most the things that I’ve mentioned in this post. It’s unbelievable some of the things society assumes and does to us. I completely believe you that you could write that book out of all that you’ve seen. Thank you so much for calling me beautiful 😊 I try not to let people’s ignorance discourage me.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Thank you for introducing us to Simone – I’ll check out her blog now.

    She make so, so many good points on ableism and shows us an insight into her life and her unique experiences so well. “In fact, most people either assume that my life is awful and therefore treat me with pity or treat me like I’m a superwoman simply for waking up every morning like everyone else” – wait, what? You’re NOT superwoman? 😉

    I absolutely agree on how this sort of thing isn’t taught at school, along with a huge long list of things I think should be taught, like assertiveness. That’s a fantastic thing to do in giving presentations to children on disabilities. Opening up the conversation and making the topic one that can be broached would surely make some difference, perhaps a gigantic one, with just the tiniest bit of this in school somehow. And a very good point too on ignorance and the police. I’ve read a case not too long ago of someone being arrested and even assaulted because the police officer thought they were drunk, but in fact they were just shaking and unable to stay still because of a muscular degeneration condition and they couldn’t speak properly either because of a stroke. That must be terrifying and frustrating to be in a position like that, unable to communicate or get across to the officer that you’re not on drugs or ignoring them when they don’t have a clue (and probably wouldn’t even if you’d been able to tell them).

    I can only imagine what it’s like to be so underrepresented everywhere you look, whether it’s clothing catalogues or TV shows. I’ve seen a more variety in recent years but too often I think it’s a bit of a tick box exercise, putting someone ‘different’ to the ‘norm’ in for good measure to say they’re progressive. There needs to be real change, where all people are seen and used in media without having to think about it. I suppose we need to get a little closer to that point before the tick box exercises can be done with otherwise little would change, so perhaps that’s what’s needed to get things going in the right direction. And ditto character storylines, too. Disability or illness isn’t all a person is, which is what usually happens in film/TV.

    I’ll stop waffling now. Brilliant post, Simone 🧡 Thank you for sharing it, da-AL 🙏

    Caz xx

    Liked by 2 people

    • great points, Caz, no waffling in site — a word which, btw, here in US means something different lol for anyone unaware, in US it means indecisive, whereas in UK means something like rambling without insignificance?

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for your lovely comment, sorry it took me so long to respond! I agree, and that’s why I was so honoured to do that talk at that school. I felt a real connection with the children there and opening up the discussion was great because afterwards they understood it fairly quickly and were able to pick up on the parts of the world that aren’t as fair to disabled people as they thought it was. I’m sorry to hear about that police assault, unfortunately – it’s one of many that has happened recently. I still don’t understand why people aren’t talking about it that much. True, we definitely need that change in representation – and that’s what I’ve decided to focus on in my fight for equal rights. More representation means that people’s attitudes towards us will change. And thank you so much for checking out my blog! I hope that you enjoyed what you read. And for the record, I really enjoyed your ‘waffling’ 😊

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I love this post so much. Thank you so much for sharing awareness. Also, Wheelchair Teen, you are an amazing writer! Your writing is so clear and your points spot-on! I love that you are also working on a comic book. You seem like a remarkable young woman and I hope you’ll continue to use and develop your talents!

    Liked by 3 people

    • I’m so happy that you enjoyed this post so much! You’re welcome, it means a lot that you think that my writing is clear. Yes, I’m very much enjoying working on my comic book – it’s an extremely rewarding experience. Thank you so very much for these kind and encouraging words! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks for sharing—this was really informative. I did nice made the mistake of telling a disabled person I know that I was inspired by her actions as an advocate and she got furious and rightly so. I know better now😊

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I’ve also come across Simone’s blog and she is a very talented young woman. Her posts are instructive, thought-provoking and challenging (in a good way). As with so many things, education is the key and I feel our WP community could and should do more. With this in mind, I’ve put 3rd December in my diary.

    For me, a beautiful mind is so much more important than the body which houses it. 🙂
    Thanks for sharing, da-AL!

    Liked by 3 people

  7. I stumbled upon Simone’s blog a few months back and have followed her writing ever since. She highlights the issues plaguing modern society related to ableism and disabilities and yet her blog is full of positivity and joy….thank you Simone for sharing so much with us and I am certain it will help educate/spread awareness…hugs to you 🤗💓

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Media depictions of disabled people reminds me of depictions of gay people in classic Hollywood movies, very inaccurate … Disabled people, like gay people, and every other people, are ordinary people who can bring a lot to society if they are given the chance, especially intelligent people like the wheelchair teen

    Liked by 4 people

  9. I am very sad to hear that the Wheelchair Teen and many others are still exposed to the stupid behaviour described above. I thought that had gotten much better now, I mean, they are doing olympics, running with a leg prothesis, doing all kinds of stuff (dancing). And people in wheelchairs are not really a rarety nowadays, so I don’t get the reaction of that child at all. In cities one will hardly walk around a day without seeing some people in a wheelchairs.
    That they use “abled” people in movies to play “disabled” I always found strange, close to the idiotic, actually. At least the Danish movie maker Lars von Trier used real Down syndrom actors in his movie “Riget”. (And they were the wise ones in that movie.)
    And one member of parliament in Denmark is in a wheelchair, and I think he is slightly spastic paralysed. That does not hinder him to go into politics, I mean, he was elected by his constituency!

    I am very surprised that the situation is like that in the Netherlands, as that country stood for me always as tolerant and progressive.

    I am glad that The Wheelchair Teenager is doing information work at schools for kids at an early age and hope that it will help to make them see that people are people and that’s it. We all have our problems, some are visible, some aren’t.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Trust me, things are still very much like this now. People’s attentions simply aren’t drawn to the issue as much as they should be. Yes, we now have the Paralympics and wheelchair dancing – the main issue, however, is how disabled people are viewed by society. That’s still very much in the dark ages. It’s just like how black people are now allowed to have many more careers than before and can be found in all sorts of different walks of life – but, despite this, in some countries, society’s view of them is still lacking. I was very happy to hear about the film Riget, thank you for reminding me of it, I like to review good disability films on my blog so I’ll definitely have to check that out. Wow, it sounds as if Denmark is doing really well. The Netherlands is progressive in certain aspects – most people around the world don’t consider ableism though when they talk about discrimination like sexism, racism, homophobia, etc. In those other aspects, NL is doing really well. And even considering their treatment of disabled people, they’re still doing MUCH better than a lot of other places. I guess I can only speak for the U.S., U.K. and NL – but they all have to do better when it comes to the treatment of disabled people. The U.S. especially is the place where I’ve heard the worst ableist stories coming from. People so rarely listen though. I felt extremely honoured giving those talks to the children at schools. It truly felt like I was making a difference and the response from the children and teachers were incredible. I’d love to make a career out of it.

      Liked by 2 people

        • alas, we do have that, Birgit — I believe it has to do with how the US came to formed as we know it, native Americans aside, with people coming here to better their own lives & those of their families – that sense of high standards, setting goals & striving them even in the face of work hard to get here & then hard once they get here is why we aren’t known for knowing how to truly lay back & enjoy — & while it may appear that I’m straying from the subject, I think they’re at least somewhat related

          Liked by 1 person

          • I do understand setting goals and trying to achieve them, and better one’s life. What I find sad is that people who do not succeed with everything are stamped as losers. It starts already at school that kids call each other that. It is also starting here in Europe now, a sad development.

            Like

  10. Thank you for sharing!!… obviously a intelligent young lady with a great deal of courage and patience and will to follow her dreams, and no doubt a role model for everyone, whether disabled or not… far too often mankind looks down upon others because they appear “different” in some manner…. 🙂

    “When you are truly inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project… your mind transcends its limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great and wonderful world! Then those dormant forces, faculties and talents inside you become alive, and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be.” ( Patanjali )… 🙂

    Until we meet again..
    May flowers always line your path
    and sunshine light your way,
    May songbirds serenade your
    every step along the way,
    May a rainbow run beside you
    in a sky that’s always blue,
    And may happiness fill your heart
    each day your whole life through.
    (Irish Saying)

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you so much for these kind words! True, mankind does often look down on those who are different and it’s really a shame. I hope to one day be that role model and to inspire everyone not to treat people who are different in this way. I really love that quote and it’s very true – sometimes all we need is a little inspiration to keep us going. And thank you so much for that beautiful Irish saying 💕

      Liked by 1 person

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