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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Discussing Disabilities and How to Fight Ableism

“Disability tends to be left out of discussions of intersectionality because of a lack of exposure, and it really angers me. One in five Americans is disabled—the fact that I still hear, ‘Well, I don’t know anyone with a disability who would be interested in working here,’ or ‘Sorry, we didn’t make the event accessible,’ is no longer an oversight but actually discriminatory. Yet it isn’t seen that way, and that’s infuriating.
As a disabled person, I translate that in my mind to: ‘You just chose to not look at my friends and the people in the disability community. You keep us behind that mystery shroud of disability in your mind, and left us there.’ The fact that disability gets left out of intersectional discussions having to do with feminism, media, technology, reproductive rights, and sexual orientation is a choice made by the people who are leading these discussions.”
That quote, said by Sandy Ho (organizer of the Disability Intersectionality Summit), was displayed at the “Including Disability in Social Justice: An Ability Dialogue” workshop on Tuesday, Oct. 16. 
The workshop was led by Madeline Brodt, a doctorate student who has arthritis. Brodt went over how she felt that disabilities should be included more often in social justice, and gave tips on how to interact with differently-abled individuals.
Some important notes on interaction included not interacting with service animals (as it could have dangerous outcomes if you distract them), asking if they would like help before helping a disabled person, trusting that the person has a disability if they say they do, and using “1st person language” – which means saying “a man with autism” instead of “an autistic man”. The word choices can have a big impact. A man with autism is not his autism, he simply has autism, which is why the 1st person language is used. 
Brodt also talked about getting over the myths of disabilities. A huge one is the idea that people are “too young”, “too healthy-looking”, “too smart”, etc. to have a disability. Anyone could have a disability. 
Another big point is that people with disabilities are just people. They can have hobbies, interests, jobs, families, and lives just like abled people. Brodt showed a TED Talk by a woman named Stella Young, titled, “I’m not your inspiration, thank you very much.” Young’s talk addressed the societal view that people with disabilities are, essentially, damaged and everything is difficult for them, so that living even basic lives are then considered “exceptional” for them. She disagreed with this view vehemently. 
Most people probably have seen photos shared online of, for example, people in wheelchairs playing sports. It may have a tag line on it like “if they can do it–what’s your excuse?.” Others may be more positive with things such as, “Believe in yourself and you can achieve anything”. This is what Stella Young calls “inspiration porn.”
“And I use the term porn deliberately, because they objectify one group of people for the benefit of another group of people. So, in this case, we’re objectifying disabled people for the benefit of nondisabled people. The purpose of these images is to inspire you, to motivate you, so that we can look at them and think, ‘Well, however bad my life is, it could be worse. I could be that person.’”
Overall, disabilities are a topic that the media tries to stay away from, despite addressing other topics with minority groups. Ableism, discriminating based on one’s physical and/or mental ability, is something that occurs in our society and won’t change unless society does. Using the tips that Madeline Brodt brought up is, to her, a start.