Monday, March 5, 2018

Inter/Intra-Disability Oppression: When bigotry,ignorance and apathy comes from other Disabled People and others in the Disability community

Recently  on Facebook, I was sharing an opinion in regards to an article  that talks about how uber will offer rides for patients that need to get to medical appointments via an anonymous platform that caters to those with disabilities.  What I wrote in that comment was that as an autistic person who has social anxiety and afraid of strangers, I prefer to have someone that I personally know or someone who was vetted than entrusting 2 different drivers who are complete strangers (as well as untrained) for such an intimate task.  Two people (I assumed have medical issues since the platform that this article appeared on was disability related) left comments that came across as  showing indifference  to my experience .   I ended up deleting the comment since people were taking it the wrong way.   In hindsight, I realized later that the comment I wrote was probably inappropriate for the context and it was targeted to the wrong audience since the people reading this article are likely not autistic but had medical conditions that required frequent doctor visits.   However that being said,  there was nowhere in that comment did I mentioned that I was against people using this service, I just stated my preference and people automatically jumped to conclusions from that comment.  

This encounter was a learning experience for me but it was also an eye opener that lack of understanding of the autistic experience does not always come from able bodied neurotypicals.  It can come from individuals who have different conditions/disabilities as well.  The piercing part of this whole situation was that these individuals who likely have disabilities or challenges of their own, just didn't seem to "get it."    You would think people with other disabilities (or even the same condition) besides autism would be more empathetic than  people who have no challenges at all.  But apparently this is another layer of  callousness, ignorance and apathy that people like me have to deal with.  The difference is that neurotypical ignorance and apathy is typically called out.   I want to bring light to this issue since this kind of oppression is not frequently discussed. 
There are some experiences in my life where people who have different disabilities than myself, did not seem to get how autism impacts me.  For instance,  I have had a friend  who has a learning disability  to whom I tried to open up to her about the personal struggles of being autistic.  She came across as seeming uninterested.  My friend even talked about another person she knows who also has autism and epilepsy.  She didn't seem to fathom the idea why her "diagnoses" are so significant part of her identity.   My friend also didn't understand why her friend wanted to ban strobe lights (which can be a potential trigger for seizures and sensory overload for some people)  at places like Disneyland. She responded that taking away the strobe lights is "ruining the fun and taking away from the colorful experience."  That conversation was another "a-ha" moment for me,  because it revealed that even those with other conditions (e.g. learning disabilities and medical conditions) can dismiss and not grasp some of the key issues, challenges of living on the spectrum.

Another common thing I see both in particular on online communities and platforms is the need for some disabled individuals to emphasize their challenges or support needs are more important than the challenges and support needs of another person with a disability.  This is called Oppression Olympics.   According to Wikipedia, oppression olympics is a one upmanship between two marginalized groups to determine which of their identities is more oppressed in society.    For example, this phenomenon tends to occur in the autism/autistic community in which one individual with high support needs is compared to another autistic individual with lower support needs like myself.    Oftentimes this comes from parents but I did have a friend who was envious of "my ability to speak and be independent and go to college" or how "someone else's son or daughter needs more support than me" etc.    The comparing of support needs that occurs in the autism community, is what pisses me off the most.  It is dismissive of the fact that everyone with a disability, no matter how impaired they are, have challenges and feel  oppressed due to the ableist structure of  society.   Every person's disability story or narrative is valid and they deserve to have their concerns and challenges heard without the fear of being dismissed.   Oppression Olympics is the biggest reason there is still a great divide in the autism/autistic community as well in the greater disability community.

Even  some autistics can show bigotry and ableism towards those of their own diagnoses.  This tends to happen with some advocates who have the Aspergers diagnosis who view themselves as superior to those with the autism diagnosis.  They are called Aspie supremacists.  My ex-boyfriend who had Aspergers would fall under that category.  He was the stereotypical Aspie  who viewed autistics as having the mind of "toddlers."  He doesn't know that I, myself was diagnosed with autism because of my language delays  (in the old DSM IV, to qualify for an Aspergers diagnosis you must not have had a language delay in early childhood).  Another rebuttal to my ex's erroneous statement that being diagnosed autistic automatically  equals intellectual disability is that there are those who are nonverbal who type to communicate.  Some of them are fully included in general education classes with their typical peers and go on to college.  Aspie supremacists as well as some "high functioning" autistic advocates can reinforce ableism and its measures of success based on external achievements.

In sum of this post, I feel that we need to accept and call out acts of ableism, prejudice and apathy committed by other disabled individuals.  It is not true disability activism and leadership, when a self advocate only shows compassion and understanding to those who have the same experiences and support needs but shows apathy to those narratives that are different from theirs.    As a self advocate,  I try to understand another disabled person's experience and see where they are coming from even if their needs and concerns are different from my own.   The disability narratives that I come across as a result of meeting people across  the spectrum as well as those with different conditions , broadens my worldview of what disability means.  It  also shows how different everyone's needs are and that there is no "one size fits all way" to address these challenges.   Some disabled communities can become cohesive to the point that they end up being close minded to those experiences that are not like their own.  Others become self absorbed with their own challenges related to their disability or condition that they tend get bitter and think their challenges have more merit than another disabled person's challenges.  This is hypocritical and  counterproductive because we cannot simultaneously demand compassion and empathy from able -bodied neurotypicals but refuse to show it to people with different conditions (as well as those with the same diagnoses).  If we want the world to be more disability friendly and advocate for change, self advocates need to be able to listen and learn from each other.

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