By M. Eschenbach, student
I am speaking tonight on disability equality/justice. Though this topic stretches far beyond what can be covered in five minutes, I want to give my perspective on the issues affecting the disabled community and implore the district to take action to protect its disabled students.
Society today often excludes disabled people from representation in the media, for example, or the portrayal in the media is poorly done and follows harmful stereotypes. The main stereotype examples are:
- The hero: the disabled individual who overcomes their disability and is seen as an incredible inspiration.
- The victim: a disabled person who lives a sad life that is consumed with their illness.
- The villain: the disabled person who is consumed by their illness and becomes evil because of it.
- The butt of the joke: the disabled person who is there solely to be made fun of and for comedic relief.
- The poster disabled person: the singular disabled person who appears in the background and is there for the sake of meeting a diversity checklist. They have no impact on the plot, little to no lines, and usually don’t even have a name.
The final major stereotype is the eternally innocent where the individual is portrayed like a sweet, innocent, little flower.
Only 63/729 movies made in 2019 had a main character with a disability. This 8% was a record high, and the representation in these 63 movies often included the harmful stereotypes I listed, which do more harm than good to the disabled community.
Because of this exclusion, awareness for disabilities is far too little and poorly done. There is a lot I could talk about on this, but I want to focus specifically on one disability we have all heard of: autism. April is known as Autism Acceptance Month, and it is important to note that it is Autism Acceptance, not awareness month, being celebrated in the community.
Autism Awareness Month was started by Autism Speaks, a very harmful organization. Autism Speaks only donates approx. 1% of their proceeds towards helping autistic people. They are known to use fear in order to make people fearful of autism and autistic people. Within the autistic community, they are known as an autistic hate group. They use the fear they create to promote the message that autistic people have something wrong with them and need to be healed.
So why do autistic people need acceptance? Well, in society we have made a world that is unaccommodating, inaccessible, and harmful towards those who are not a part of the majority. Our world is already aware of autism, but what autistic people need is to be accepted wholly. A lot of the time autistic people, and all disabled people in general, are accepted (at a minimum) but their disabilities are rejected. They are discriminated against daily. Many disabled people do not care about being cured, which is the main message able-bodied created awareness movements usually spread. Disabled people want to be accepted as a whole, disability and all.
The disabled community also needs justice.
This past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has very clearly demonstrated the ableism present in our world. Disabled people are losing their treatments, appointments, doctors, and care. They are being “unplugged” from life support if they have COVID-19 because even if they likely would survive, doctors decide that they didn’t have a justifiable quality of life before getting sick, enabling them to justify personally upsetting and tragic decisions. Disabled people are being told that their life is less valuable because they couldn’t live in the same way able-bodied people did.
This demonstrates the larger justice that the disabled community and disabled people need. There is such a stigma and narrative around disabilities that they are sad, depressing, life-ending/end of the world, and that disabled people can’t do anything and should sit in self-pity forever. This is not true!
Disabled people can live such happy and full lives.
They can have friends, families, careers, hobbies, and so much more. I am chronically ill/dynamically disabled (chronic illness is one of the largest groups in the disabled community) and I live an amazing life. I have lots of friends, I am a successful student, I am an officer on the North Allegheny Gender Equality Series (which I have more information and resources on disabilities on the NA GES website), and so much more!
#IAmForChange because I deserve to be given the respect and dignity that my able-bodied peers enjoy by default.
As a disabled/chronically ill student, I see ableism in not only our world but especially in our schools and communities. From insensitive comments, inaccessibility, misinformation, and more, we can and must do better.
I implore the district to please listen to disabled students and help fight ableism!
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