Sometimes I wonder if my education is encouraging me to pass as able. In my program I participate in discussion groups, and am expected to be articulate to a certain degree and I fear the possibility of setting the standard for the next person who finds themselves in my position.
Though I consider myself an activist in the disability movement, I find that my education and career pursuits have forced me into this role of `passing advocate`who speaks up on issues facing the disability community while conforming to norms by hiding my challenges in language and mobility.
Why is it that my education permits me to challenge issues of ableism in the community, and speak to them in the classroom, but if such issues are raised from within the facualty they are met more often with hushed voices and self preservation than change.
Take these two examples:
In my faculty we have an accessibility committee. This committee was recently consulted on how to appropriately assist a Deaf person in case of fire. I think what they were looking for was to have someone in the classroom assist them, or some other way of making someone who identifies as having a hearing difference seek help from others in an emergency. When I suggested strobe fire alarms the response was that since those alarms are only recommended and not required by the building code this would not be happening.
My second example relates more specifically to me. Recently I went to a workshop in my progrom where the gentleman running the program really needed some Ableism101. What`s kind of scary about that is he`s a trained social worker. Also, after experiencing his ableist patronizing attitude I really didn`t know who to turn to. I did speak up to it, but this was hard to do, and it`s altered my perception of my social work community.
I recently came across an article in another blog that explains a lot of the way ableism works in the educational system. Even though there are standards and policies designed to promote this idea that educational systems want inclusivity. They still operate within a system that centers able bodies (not to leave out male, white, gender conforming, straight bodies). To me seeing education in this contexts explains but does not excuse these kinds of issues.
It doesn`t make sense to expect people to come to your school if you`re not willing to work on barriers that exclude them until after they get there, or that some forms of discrimination have clearer avenues of recourse than others, or that this should be happening at all within a social work institution.
How many voices were silenced before me, continue to be, and will be after I`m gone? If social workers can give themselves the power to create change, why don’t we use that power to improve our institutions rather than accept the status quo?