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?

Cancer’s 3 Blessings by da-AL

Holidays and increased pandemic restrictions got you down? Hopefully, this tale of hardwon positivity will give you a boost to “keep calm and carry on.”

Cancer's 3 Blessings by da-AL

I’ve always been a writer, but before I became a novelist, I was a journalist. Years ago, a non-profit agency that helps people deal emotionally with cancer hired my business partner and me to produce a video. The afternoon we were to tape a talk-therapy group, I braced myself.

Turns out, these were no mere survivors. They were warriors committed to squeezing all the wonderfulness from every moment they had left. Those people, sick as they were, regarded cancer as a blessing.

To my mind, they were kidding either themselves or me. Nonetheless, the tears I shed behind my camera lens gave way to smiles by the session’s end. Their stories, to my amazement, had uplifted me. I left certain they were made of far sterner stuff than me.

Forward to some years later… In 2007, I was diagnosed with cancer.

To put it mildly, I was scared shi…er…witless. So freaked that I couldn’t sleep for a month. Fighting with insurance and doctors added extra hell to the nightmare.

It took me time… a long while… to understand what those people spoke of. Eventually, though, same as for them, cancer has enhanced my life.

These are only three of the many blessings that cancer imparted to me:

1. Staying focused and positive leads me to my highest self.

Round the clock, I obsessed while I waited for my illness to be categorized and quantified.

How did I get this? How to rid myself of it? How do I ensure it never touches my life again? How will my illness hurt my loved ones? How much longer until I die?

In desperation, I thought a detox could be the answer. If the lump could be sweated out, then hot yoga might do that. Insane with fear as I was, suddenly the prospect of exercising in 105-plus-degrees sounded worth trying.

It took conventional medicine (which I complimented with many alternative therapies) to resolve my cancer — but hot yoga healed me in other ways. The laser focus needed to survive those initial classes renewed my spirit. The full-length mirrors taught me as much as the instructors did.

For one thing, when I thought only of how miserable I felt, I couldn’t do any of the poses. For another, if I did them while truly experiencing a positive word such as “healthy,” “happy,” “joy,” or “love,” I fared way better. My reflection confirmed it.

2. All of us deserve to live.

You might’ve already guessed from the above, I was raised (like, I suspect, too many other little girls and children in general) to doubt and re-doubt myself…

At the height of my frustration, I decided that because I had never accomplished anything extraordinary and probably never would, I did not deserve to live.

That rocked me — clear into the second wisdom that cancer imparted. Deciding I was no better than a cockroach or a flea made me realize if they deserve to live, so do I! My ordinary mortal best is enough.

3. Sometimes happiness comes effortlessly. Sometimes I have to fight for it, but it’s worth it. Life is meant to be joyful.

Perpetual dread that the worst was near eclipsed my life. Then I had the good luck to meet a volunteer for The American Cancer Society. She’d had cancer twenty years earlier and listened patiently to what I was going through.

Then she relayed the story of someone she knew. After ten years of being cancer-free, her friend still continually waited for cancer to hit again, and this time worse. In the meantime, several of that friend’s loved ones had passed away from accidents and natural causes. The volunteer reasoned, “No one can predict the future, not when we’re going to die or from what.”

I’ve never forgotten her words, how lucky each of us is lucky for every breath we take.

What has a seemingly overwhelming challenge taught you?

To Dance Argentine Tango is a Miracle: 2 videos by da-AL

Some time ago, I messed up my left knee big time in a skiing accident. This is a revival of an older post, one that I wish brings hope to anyone who’s feeling frustrated — about anything. My recovery from that mishap was horrendous, as was dealing with insurance. It wasn’t till six months later that I had healed enough to schedule the surgery I was informed that I needed. A few weeks before the big day, however, I slipped and broke more parts of the same knee. That second fall meant postponing surgery.

A blessing! As I waited anew for the surgery, I met a wonderful orthopedist who suggested that I might not need cutting after all! Lo and behold, within a year and a half later, my knee was — and remains almost perfect! I can dance!

Here are a couple of short clips of my husband and me at the very start of our learning new Tango Elegante steps taught to us by the best Argentine Tango teachers ever! Btw, if you’d like to learn how to edit video, I found this youtube video on how to use iMovie very helpful.

 

Want to try learning? Here are excellent teachers online…

Did you know that dogs like to dance too? Ours does!

Guest Blog Post: The Tao of RELATIONSHIP by Bryan Wagner

Communication is not easy. Whether I’m listening, reading, looking… all my interactions are colored by my perspective that’s shaped by my present and past. Sometimes my simplest, most straight-forward conversations are with my dear doggie.

Who do you interact with most easily? Blogger/writer Bryan Wagner presents workshops on Zen, Tao, and Shamanism. Here’s his take on relationships…

Bryan Wagner and a friend spending quality time together.

“The Tao of RELATIONSHIP” by Bryan Wagner

Communion is creating and embracing an emotional, spiritual, sharing of each other.

We can enter a state of communion if we are present and each of us has the desire, openness, and willingness to remain so. 

We can also use that willingness of communication to build a more intimate exchange that leaves traces of each participant within the other. That is the act of communion. Communion is not just language and sharing. Communion is a process further than language, it is the art of complete communication in the moment. Genuine communion happens when things move between those in relationship that is grounded in the awareness of the moment.

I believe that the sharing of emotional content is important to the state of being in communion. That means to express emotional, non-verbal content, and then allow the receiver to process it in whatever form that action takes.

Communion happens inter-species because spoken language is only a very small part of communion. Some of my happiest moments are in communion with animals. I think in part because they are aware and painfully honest in how they respond. Being with animals has the effect of clearing the detritus and fog from my thinking and reference frame on life. I engage in the state of love so readily with animals!

I honor and value those that I commune with and actively seek out building those relationships that offer that place of intimacy. I encourage people to embrace the idea of communing with others and seek those relationships out in their own lives.

Today I will spend some time communing with Spike and P’nut and a horse named Anastasia. I can’t think of a better way to share life. – Bryan Wagner

Who do you interact with most easily?

Video: Strength and Compassion in the Worst of Times by da-AL

In the worst situations, strength and compassion shine brightest. Terrible times strip away everything but what’s essential, leaving bare the best in us and those we encounter during our trials. 

The first time I learned the depth of this truth was when I co-produced a video for the Leukemia Society of America (nowadays Leukemia and Lymphoma Society). They’d hired my business partner, David Hunt (who has written for HBT here and here), and me (our non-profit company was called, Vista Educational Media) to encourage therapists, as well as people struggling with leukemia to get involved in the agency’s support groups. Executive Producer was Maureen Nunn. We videotaped at Wellness Community South Bay Cities, which is now Cancer Support Community Redondo Beach. The Los Angeles Times wrote of participant Roger Kahl’s valiant life here.

The way David and I worked was always to let subjects speak their truths, then we’d do our best to edit and narrate accurately. For each project, David and I would alternate who would be in charge and who would assist.

Thank goodness for this one David conducted the interviews, wrote, edited, and narrated. It took all I had not to sob while I stood to videotape behind the tripod. Reviewing it all these many years later, I still cry at the incredible bravery of the interviewees and David’s outstanding storytelling.

On David’s site, he details his experience with this project. Here’s his preliminary description for my site here…

“By the 1990s health educators understood that video-assisted storytelling was an effective way to engage patients and get them involved in their own health care. But many of the nation’s top health organizations, including the Leukemia Society, used actors as stand-ins for actual patients in their health education videos. In 1992 I was part of a documentary team that convinced the organization to trust people with leukemia to share their own stories.”

Argentine Tango Elegante: Video of Newest Step by da-AL

Khashayar and da-AL learning a new step. Khashayar and da-AL learning a new step.

It’s no coincidence that my soon-to-be self-published novels have to do with dance! Here are my husband and me practicing a step we just learned at the end of class (and here’s more and some more and more and a quick clip and the first time I posted a video of our dancing about the style of Argentine tango that we dance that’s taught by these outstanding teachers)…

Here’s a masterfully fun tango clip of “Lost in Paris,” a marvelous film I recently discovered by French film burlesque style due Canadian Fiona Gordon and Belgian Dominique Abel…

And another from the same movie — that’s choreographed by them (and danced?)…

What’s your favorite dance film?…

Linear Amplitude: I’m in an art installation! by da-AL

da-AL modeling for Connie DK Lane's Linear Amplitude art installation
Here I am, modeling for my friend’s upcoming show.

Yeah! My friend, artist Connie DK Lane, is having another show (here’s an installation she did to honor lives lost to COVID-19 here, this was an earlier show — and this is another I performed in). Please join us. Below are her official info and description…

Info for Connie DK Lane's Linear Amplitude art installation

“Connie DK Lane’s work is born of her emigration from Hong Kong and evolved from contemplations on belonging, memory, and being. By combining aspects of lived experience and creative imagination, Lane’s art beckons viewers to meditate on their own complexities. Artist reception March 23, 2 to 5 p.m. with a performance at 3 p.m. The show runs through April 29.”

What’s the last art show you attended?…

Flamenco Fusion by da-AL

“Flamenco & the Sitting Cat” is the title of the first of my soon-to-be self-published novels. The ‘Sitting Cat’ part of the title refers to the geographical shape of Iran…

Map of Iran out lined in shape of a Sitting Cat.
Map of Iran outlined in the shape of a Sitting Cat.

I grew up with only classical music — and flamenco music and dance. My father, who left Barcelona in his mid-20s, wanted it that way. Since I left home at 18, it’s a gift to watch any type of dance I like and to listen to every kind of music that comes my way.

Shahrokh Moshkin Ghalam respectfully and lovingly fuses dance cultures.
Shahrokh Moshkin Ghalam respectfully and lovingly fuses dance cultures.

I still love classical — and flamenco! Especially fascinating to me is when flamenco is fused with the dance of Iran, where my husband was raised. Shahrokh Moshkin Ghalam is an Iranian dancer now residing in France. Flamenco is as much about individuality as it is about technique — it accommodates all cultures, all forms of beauty.

If only politics were as intent on creating a climate of ‘we’ rather than an ‘us vs. them’!

The way Ghalam (click here for his Facebook page) fuses dance styles is respectful and hypnotic…

For more flamenco, check out Part 3: Marvelous Madrid — Flamenco

What fusion art do you enjoy?

How’s your public library? by da-AL

How often do you use the public library nearest to you? Books are heaven to me (I’m in the middle of writing two novels!) — but here in Los Angeles, they’re not the only reason to I love them.

Photo of spaniel dog with his nose in a book, reading.
Photo by 2Photo Pots on Unsplash
  1. Any California resident can get a Los Angeles County Public Library card.
  2. All services are entirely free!
  3. Visitors can browse, and cardholders can borrow in-person or order online — materials from hard copies, audiobooks, magazines, music, movies, and more — to downloadable ones.
  4. Los Angeles County has nearly 100 libraries, including bookmobiles. Free of charge, they’ll deliver books from one site to another.
  5. Physically challenged people can have items delivered.
  6. Vocational and fun classes are available online and at their facilities — many online ones engage real teachers.
  7. There’s live online homework tutoring.
  8. Job seekers and business owners have lots of resources.
  9. Enjoy fun events — music, crafts, reading, and workshops.
  10. Over the summer, kids get free lunches.
  11. Lonely or just want to be cozy and quiet? Come on in!
  12. Meeting spaces can be used by groups and tutors.
  13. Get help obtaining a high school diploma.
  14. Wifi, computers, and printers are complimentary. Photocopying fees are nominal.
Photo of spaniel dog with his nose in a book, reading.
Photo by 2Photo Pots on Unsplash

Share about your public library and share this post…

Happy Halloween and Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) by da-AL

da-AL and her husband in Halloween 1970s disco costumes.

Get out your candy corn and candles and costumes! It’s Halloween and Dia de los Muertos aka Day of the Dead. Do you celebrate them?