A letter was delivered anonymously to the mother of an autistic child in Ottawa this August. It was posted on twitter, and both buzzfeed and Huffington Post picked it up.
READ THE LETTER and the come back here so we can talk about it.
In the thread on which I first found this letter, someone said “I don’t think this is real.”
I feel like this is really common when it comes to hatred directed at disabled people.
We read about disabled children who are being abused by the parents, and people don’t think it is real.
We talk about very real discrimination on the basis of disability and people don’t believe it.
We publish articles about sexual assault and disability and people question whether or not it really happens.
There are social, historical and educational reasons for why our society does not believe it when bad things happen to people with disabilities.
For one, the history of disabled people is almost entirely untaught. With the exception of Helen Keller, I cannot think of a single disabled individual who was celebrated in my educational history – at least that we were told about. When I was in graduate school, we studied all sorts of minority groups, from Latina, to Asian American, to African American, to white feminists, to LGBT feminists.
You know who we never talked about?
Disabled feminists. We didn’t really discuss the concept of disabled feminism, or for that matter, disabled activism.
Everyone has been educated about the civil rights movement for black Americans – but there has been no education about, say, the Deaf protestors at Bell South.
I believe this links into the very real rhetoric that people with disabilities are helpless. The myth is that we cannot fend for ourselves and that we cannot speak our minds. We are pathetic to many, and inspirational to others (but only when we do something THEY can do.)
Going back to the letter –
THIS is what ableism looks like.
The kind of seething hatred the author of that anonymous note spews in response to the sounds of an autistic child is terrifying. She suggests that no one will love him, that no one will hire him, and that his own mother should KILL him rather than “subject” others to his very existence.
This is the kind of hatred we face every day. It isn’t that people think we’re sad or pathetic, it is that many people think we should just DIE. That our lives are not worth anything, and therefore we should just give up.
Families are told that their children are worthless, adults are told that they should just stop trying to have sex, or trying to find a job.
The bleak atmosphere which ableism creates is devastating, and is more than just depressing, it is a vicious attack, which kills.
The fact that there are people who do not believe that these kinds of hateful things are real – that is the most hurtful of all. It is the detrimental effect of knowing that if you are attacked, if you are afraid for your life, that maybe no one will believe you.
Because who could hate someone with a disability?