Ableism is an idea that can be reflected in words or actions. In my opinion, ableism is using a socially constructed idea around “ability” to deploy prejudice, devalue people with disabilities, or pity those who have a disability. While people may not intentionally use ableist language or take ableist actions, they often use such language and exhibit such actions unintentionally. I believe that one aspect of ableism includes the idea that able-bodiedness is the “norm.” As a result, disability is always viewed as “bad.” People or societies who use aspect of ableism often think that disability is something that must be overcome or that people with a disability should try to rid themselves of the disability and become “normal.” Acknowledging a person’s disability, embracing disability, and working with a person’s disability don’t fit in with some ableist conceptions. In considering the definition of ableism, I recalled our class discussion on “Team Hoyt.”
I visited the Team Hoyt website at http://www.teamhoyt.com/About-Team-Hoyt.html and found that much of the language on the “About Team Hoyt” section of the website revolves heavily on Dick and Judy, who are the parents, rather than around Rick, who is the son with a disability. The “About Team Hoyt” section of the website discusses much of what Rick’s parents had done for him, fighting to get Rick into school, For example the website says, “[a]fter providing concrete evidence of Rick’s intellect and ability to learn like everyone else, Dick and Judy needed to find a way to help Rick communicate for himself.” While parents do inevitably play a role in their child’s education and development, this sentence overlooks Rick’s role in his own development and downplays his ability to communicate in other ways. Rick was previously using his eyes to communicate. This supports the ableist idea mentioned earlier that there is a “norm” and those who deviate from the “norm” are overlooked. The “norm” in this case is communication through spoken language, and because Rick communicated in a different way, his method of communication was overlooked, even by his own parents in creating the Team Hoyt website.
Below I have attached a picture of “Team Hoyt.” While I do not think the picture itself necessarily represents ableist ideas, I do think that the way people respond to the picture represents ableist views. People seeing the picture often make an assumption that Rick relies on his father to complete the races, without even thinking that Rick may choose to compete in races with his father because he favors that method or the time with his father. Rick may be able to compete in the race in other ways, some of which may include completing the race on his own using advances in technology; however, there is an assumption that he could never complete the race on his own. Some people look at this image and view Rick as a hero because Rick has “overcome” his disability. If Rick is a hero for completing a marathon, then isn’t every other person who completed the race also a hero? Rick is like every other person and has the ability to complete the race in whatever way he chooses. In my opinion, Rick has not overcome his disability in this picture, but instead embraced his disability and worked with his disability as a part of himself.
I recognize that other people may not view these potential responses to the photo below as ableism. What is viewed as ableism by one person may not be considered ableism by another person. I find myself at times questioning if I am acting in an ableist manner, but I think the fact that I now question whether my actions are ableist, a term that I never heard a year and a half ago, demonstrates progress. If I can make progress in my own life, I have faith that others can make progress and, ultimately, society as a whole can make progress toward developing a common conception of ableism and combating ableism.