I first heard the term “ableism” at the Nanaimo Women’s March last January. VIU’s Student Union was handing out pins. One said, “Unlearn racism,” another said, “Unlearn ableism.” It’s hard to unlearn something you don’t know, I remember thinking.
Ableism, as I later found out, is the discrimination against people with disabilities. While the term was new to me, I had seen its definition in action. My partner Sarah is disabled. Once in Vancouver, a man harassed Sarah after we parked in a disabled spot, even though she had a disabled parking permit. She’s also been harassed while parking at VIU. As a person with an invisible physical disability—that is, a physical disability that isn’t immediately apparent—she fears being confronted each time she parks and goes to class.
Last year, VIU announced the construction of a campus chairlift for its Nanaimo campus on April Fool’s Day. It was an elaborate joke, complete with a minute-and-a-half video describing the benefits of a chairlift for the notoriously stair-heavy, mountainside campus. I watched the video and thought it was funny.
Sarah, on the other hand, was furious. She pointed out the inaccessibility of campus and how constructing a chairlift would be extremely beneficial to disabled VIU students. She said making the campus accessible for disabled students—and by extension, their education accessible—shouldn’t be a joke. After reflecting on her words, I agreed. All humour was (rightly) lost.
In this issue, we have two important pieces on ableism. In Connor Runnings’ “What I’ve learned from having autism,” he reflects on how “autism is not some disease that needs to be cured.” In Sarah Packwood’s “Responding to The Shape of Water wins,” she explains, among other things, the lack of disability representation in film.
“Ableism” is a term that’s been in use since the ‘80s, but if this is your first time coming across the term like I recently have, don’t rely on my definition or experiences as a non-disabled person. Instead, read the two pieces above.