Ableism: Discrimination Against Disabled 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!

(For an audio version of this post, click H-E-R-E.)

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?

How I Got Published (Big Time) by Lance Akiyama

How does an author get their book published by a big company, as opposed to doing it on their own? Hard work and good fortune figured into how a big-time publisher of how-to books reached out to Lance Akiyama. Together, they’ve put out four books (including a revised version of one) by him about how to make cool stuff from rubber bands, duct tape, and more.

Do you have first-hand experience? I’m gathering a following of fiction lovers who might enjoy my soon-to-be-published books, “Flamenco and the Sitting Cat,” and “Tango and the Sitting Cat.” Other authors have posted on Happiness Between Tails about their book experiences here and here and here and here and here and here.

Read on for Lance’s post about how he got published. He notes that non-fiction vs. fiction call for different methods…

Lance Akiyama, author of "Duct Tape Engineer" and more.
Lance Akiyama, author of “Duct Tape Engineer” and more.

How I Got Published (Big Time) by Lance Akiyama

My process for getting published was pretty unusual. I had created a series of free project tutorials on Instructables.com, which ranks pretty well if you search Google for ‘engineering projects for kids.’ At some point, my publisher’s editor had a book idea for a series of gadgets that were powered by rubber bands and made from household items. She went searching for someone who could realize that vision, found my work, and offered me the book deal! I don’t think many people have offers to become an author just drop into their inbox, but that’s how it happened.

DIY project books are a bit different than publishing a novel. There’s no outline phase. Instead, there’s a tinkering phase; I had to experiment with about 30-40 project ideas before settling on 20-ish and then spending more time fine-tuning those ideas so they could be easily recreated at home by the reader. The editing phase is more focused on the clarity of the step-by-step instructions rather than the plot or character development. And finally, I had to take hundreds of pictures in my tiny home studio. Well, ‘studio’ is a generous term. Really it was a folding table with a cloth backdrop that was set up in my bedroom. But eventually all the pieces came together, and the publisher’s design team polished up all the content into a great-looking layout!

The next few books followed a similar pattern: my editor had an idea, asked me if I wanted to author the book, and then tinkered & wrote & produced all the materials. But after 4 books plus one revised edition, I think I’m ready to take a break from writing!

Cover of "Duct Tape Engineer" by Lance Akiyama.

About Lance Akiyama: he’s an avid tinkerer, and voted Most Likely to Survive the Zombie Apocalypse. He currently holds a full-time position as a science curriculum developer for Galileo Learning, an innovative summer camp company. His mission is to inspire the next generation of scientists, engineers, and artists with hands-on projects that make kids think, “I can’t believe I made that!”

Have you published a book?

Guest Blog Post: On Boy Books and Girl Books by Pernille Ripp

Books allow me to transcend my own experience of the world. In reading, I can assume the skin of people, places, times, and events that I’ll never otherwise inhabit. They make me feel more part of the world and more human.

How has reading shaped you? Blogger/teacher/parent Pernille Ripp why she believes children should be exposed to all kinds of books…

Blogger/teacher/parent Pernille Ripp.
Blogger/teacher/parent Pernille Ripp.

Pernille Ripp

White, Black, Yellow, Lime,  Free Image

I get asked for a lot of book recommendations, I think it comes with the territory when you share the love of books.  And while I love pairing books with potential readers, I have also noticed a pattern that causes me to pause, that should cause all of us to pause.

I get asked for a lot of books featuring male lead characters for male readers.

When I ask why the need for a male lead, I am often told that “they” just don’t think a boy will read a “girl book.”  That a boy will not like a book about feelings.  That a boy only wants books that have action.  That have other boys in it.  That feature characters that look just like them or at the very least think like them.

As if every single boy thinks alike.

When written like this it is easy to see the…

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Guest Blog Post: “How Pets Help Raise Kids” in Emily Parker’s exact words

Emily Parker and Gus
Emily Parker and Gus

Blogger Emily Parker describes herself as, “A proud cat parent of two black cats, Gus and Louis (even though Gus only has one eye!). I help cat parents love their cats better by providing helpful articles on my website.”

Click here for her “How Pets Help Raise Kids” infographic.

Have pets helped raise kids you know?

Why Every Girl (and Boy and Adult) Needs a Dog: Love, Boundaries, and More by da-AL

Anyone who thinks my doggies are my substitute children is missing the point. Humans are great. Thank goodness, though, dogs are yet another species with whom we can exchange care, joy, love, and wisdom.

Close up of dog nose and teeth
This picture by Sofia Oratowski of her dog always makes me smile.

This charming photo was taken by a dear 16-year-old friend. It’s of her amazingly sweet-tempered rescue dog. The adoption facility said the dog had problems with other dogs. Several years later, the dog has yet to display an ounce of anti-social behavior.

How I wish I’d learned or at least had begun to learn from dogs when I was as young as my friend is now.

Why? What’s good for my dogs is equally good for me. We teach people how to treat us. The wisdom that comes from training a dog applies as directly to happiness as to any type of relationship.

Training my dogs showed me about boundaries:

  1. What they are.
  2. What I need for a happy home.
  3. What dogs are capable of. What’s reasonable to expect as far as trusting them to learn, remember, and honor my needs.
  4. That boundaries are best communicated clearly and nonjudgmentally. If my requests are misunderstood, I’m must find a better way to convey them.
  5. Patience and consistency are essential.

Keeping them physically and emotionally healthy is great for both of us:

  • Walking them daily means I walk too.
  • Together, we meet our neighbors.
  • I used to think I was too busy to have a dog. Now I see that when I don’t have time for my pets, I’m overextending myself. When I wasn’t eager to come home, I wasn’t investing enough effort in ensuring that my home life, personal life, and social life were reliable havens.
  • Angels exist, and they’re not just the dogs. Strangers, neighbors, and friends often help when my dogs and I most need them. For all of my striving for independence, I need to be reminded that everyone and everything in the world are interdependent.
  • Compatibility: Cesar Milan, a.k.a., The Dog Whisperer, often talks about the importance of selecting pets that match our energy levels. Sometimes two good individuals are simply mismatched. Appreciating our differences shows us the need for bridges.
  • Trust needed time to grow. Some types of trust are harder to rebuild once they’re broken.

Few things can match how, when I leave my home for only a short while, my dogs’ eyes shine with pure joy when I return. Everyone needs love.

Have your pets made you a better human?