Let’s face it: no matter who you are, you have internalized ableism.
Some able-bodied folks have difficulties navigating friendships — and even basic interactions — with people who have disabilities. This isn’t always intentional; internalized ableism is mostly to blame. (Even from people with disabilities.) Here are five phrases that are actually ableist, along with healthy alternatives!
1. “Don’t be so negative!”
People with disabilities hear this too often. Though people typically have good intentions when they say it, it’s honestly dismissive and rude. We should have our feelings and fears validated — without being put down for being negative. The feelings we have about our condition(s), our quality of life and the way our mental illnesses make us feel and see the world around us are all valid. With everything we face, with all of the unknowns, with ableism permeating everything around us, we have a damn good reason to be upset, angry, cranky, and, yes — negative. It’s ableist to suggest that our feelings about our illness(es) make you uncomfortable, or that we should be obligated to keep up this “happy” facade constantly. Silencing and dismissing us doesn’t help.
Take care to avoid saying this when folks are telling you about their feelings, fears, and/or venting. Instead, hold space for that person and validate and affirm them.
2. Saying someone “Suffers from (insert illness here).”
The truth is, while our conditions may be difficult at times, while it may be hard living in the shadow of ableism, the reality is, not all of us are suffering. All of us can lead happy lives in our own unique ways. There’s always been this idea that our lives are constantly miserable. Why is it that able-bodied folks’ existences are so often seen as happy and productive while the existences of disabled folks are typically seen as sad, bleak and unproductive? Much of that can be attributed to how capitalism relies so closely on ableism. So often our worth is determined by our efficiency, and typically there’s an extremely small box of what actually is efficient. In reality, there’s no wrong way to be efficient. Sometimes it means just generating a little self-care or self-love — a smile, brushing your teeth — anything.
Try instead saying, “Someone ‘has,’ or ‘experiences,’ (insert condition or symptoms here).”
Related: 5 Ways Ableism Looks in Queer Spaces
3. “You’re losing weight; you look great!”
It’s no secret that ableism and fatphobia are best friends. Folks may see us losing weight, but they don’t often care to know why. People see our collarbones protrude and our cheekbones sunken in, but they don’t see how our conditions leave us too nauseous or lethargic to eat. They don’t see what when our pain levels spike, food is the last thing on our minds. They don’t care to see that our bodies are sick, or that they may reject food. People don’t want to acknowledge eating disorders or addiction. They don’t care to look below the surface.
Are your ableist, Eurocentric, fatphobic beauty standards really worth our health? Ask how we’re feeling more often. Ask if we’re getting enough food, sleep, water, etc.
Ask how you can help. Get in contact with our doctors, if need be (with consent). There’s already so much fatphobia in medicine; we need to acknowledge it and keep it out of our relationships and homes — practitioners and caregivers especially! Time and time again, sick and disabled people are told to lose weight, as if it will magically ease our chronic pain or illnesses.
Keep fatphobia in check at all times. Medical fatphobia is rampant, especially towards folks with chronic illnesses. Keep in mind that skinny doesn’t equal healthy! Weight loss, especially when it’s rapid, can be extremely detrimental to someone’s health. Skinny isn’t necessarily good, nor should it be the ideal.
4. Saying you “Stand with/in solidarity with” a cause or person.
We’ve all been guilty of this at least once. Anytime we see politicians pushing anti-abortion bills, you’ll start to see an influx of people on social media saying they #StandwithPP. Even more recently, when singer Kesha lost her court case against her producer, Dr. Luke, people took to the web to declare “I Stand With Kesha!”
The truth is, not all of us can stand! Often, people argue that using “stand” in this manner isn’t ableist because it’s a metaphor. The fact that it’s a metaphor is what makes it ableist, in the same way that using the word “blind” and “deaf” as metaphors for not knowing something is ableist, or using mental illnesses and diagnostic terms as metaphors. And, frankly, able-bodied people don’t get to decide what isn’t ableist.
Simply saying that you’re “in solidarity with ___” or “I’m with ___” works just as well.
5. Telling someone who can’t walk, “Maybe you’ll walk one day.”
As a wheelchair user, and as someone who cannot walk, my friends have frequently been told that maybe I’ll be able to walk one day. Typically, when I begin to protest, the person tells me, “Well, you never know!” or something similar.
Saying this implies that you know more about the person’s condition(s) than they do. Even deeper, though, when you say it repeatedly, you’re implying that we must strive to walk because it’s ideal. Folks never really consider that we might love ourselves regardless. We don’t need to walk to be able to love ourselves or thrive. We don’t wake up every day pissed off and cursing the sun because of our disabilities. We adapt; we live.
Trust us to know our own bodies. It’s time to stop suggesting to people with disabilities that if we can’t walk, we’re not good enough.
If you’re able-bodied, understand that you have internalized ableism. You do, I do, our friends, doctors, parents — everyone. Take note that, as an able-bodied person, you don’t know our experiences first-hand. There’s far more meaning behind your words than you may realize. Continue to educate yourself and check your privilege. As disabled folks, we can only do so much; it’s up to you to do the rest. It’s not the job of people with disabilities to educate you. Affirm the labor that we exhaust in an attempt to fight against ableism. Heed our call-outs. Begin unlearning what you’ve internalized. And keep in mind that this list is not exhaustive; it’s just a start.