I recently started volunteering with our local school district, bringing a parent voice to improving delivery of special education services. There is a lot of administrative support for this work at the highest levels of the school district – lots of walking the walk and not just talking the talk.

We recently had a meeting where we talked about next steps in long-range planning and it made me think about something that I had been pondering for a while:

Recommending ableism training for everyone.

Ableism is a kind of stereotyping and labeling of people with disabilities. As Wikipedia describes it

Ableism characterizes persons as defined by their disabilities, and as inferior to the non-disabled. There are stereotypes associated with various disabilities [which] …  have an influence on the attitudes and behavior towards the people of the respective group. In ableist societies, able-bodiedness is viewed as the norm; people with disabilities are viewed as deviating from that norm. A disability is seen as something to overcome or to fix, for example through medical treatments. The ableist worldview holds that disability is an error or a failing rather than a simple consequence of human diversity

I was first introduced to the concept of ableism through reading Autism-related blogs, such as Diary of a Mom and Emma’s Hope Book, among others. Until that time I had not really considered the stereotyping that went into interactions with people with disabilities.

What I do know is that the road from stereotyping to prejudice to bigotry can be a short one.

What really drove it home for me was when despite my attempts to teach my son to learn who people are and not define them by outward characteristics, he still struggled with it.

What this told me was that I was not aware enough about ableism and ableism stereotypes to be able to teach and guide my son. The gap in my knowledge was a gap in his education.

I also realized that neither my son nor I was hearing anything about it from his school. He was learning about inappropriate behavior such as bullying and racism, but not about ableism stereotyping.

Not for lack of caring; as it had not been for me, it was simply not on the school’s radar.

If the school district is going to improve the delivery of its special education services, I think one of the first things it will need to explore is how ableism impacts everything it does – from the general education classroom to the special education resource rooms and everything in between.

Examining and eliminating a foundational stereotype seems to be an obvious first step.

I truly hope that on this, as well as other issues, I will continue to see the walking the walk – because what a difference it could make.

Unplanting the Seeds of Ableism

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