Up at the Register: Are People with Disabilities Welcome at Your Parish?
Ableism is the counterpart to “racism” or “ageism,” the often-insidious discrimination against people with disabilities. Ableism is happening when a parish that has three wheelchair-accessible entrances decides to lock all doors except the one with the stairs. No malice, just complete indifference.
When you park in the handicap spot even though you don’t need it, that’s ableism. It’s also ableism when you assume the person with the tag must be faking just because you can’t identify an obvious disability.
Here’s an example of how pervasive ableism is:
We’re at the “atrium” of the children’s hospital today, a big sunny play space where kids can do fun stuff.
L. is in the teen corner doing arts and crafts, and it gets to be a few minutes before closing. The other family there is a patient with her dad and a sister. The dad calls clean-up time, and I get up and go help with putting away all the craft supplies. I’m not really paying attention to who is doing what, other than that I start with putting away the things we personally got out (because I know where they came from) and also I tell L. to go sit in her wheelchair and hold all our junk for the trip up.
Here’s the entrenched-ableism mindset: In my brain I compose an explanation for why my kid is not helping clean up.
My child has a broken sternum from open-heart surgery less than 3-days earlier, and I am feeling the need to be ready to explain why she can’t walk around putting things away. In a children’s hospital. Where everyone else is there with a kid (or is the kid) who also can’t do all the things.
Mind you, not a person batted an eye. But you know you are used to living in an abelist world when you just automatically prepare to fend off stupid accusations against a kid with an invisible (and thankfully temporary) disability.
Which is why we have parishes that lock people out of Mass if they can’t climb stairs. And that’s a problem.