A Brief Rant on Ableism

One of my classes here in Chile deals with the joint public-private health system (as opposed to the purely private American system or the purely public British system). In this course, we learn about how the systems work together and visit various hospitals (public system) to get a feel for how healthcare provision works in Chile. Today, I found myself in the Unidad de Tratamiento Intermedio (one step down from Intensive Care for patients in slightly better condition) of one of the hospitals. Among other patients, there was a young man who had been paralyzed from the neck down after he broke his neck in a car accident.

***Spoiler/Warning/Trigger-Alert/whatever sensitive progressives want to call this now: Rant commences here***

Dear Medical Staff and Associated Others:

Yes, it is unfortunate that this young man had this accident and is in the shape he is in. Yes, he is bedridden and his life will never be the same again. Yes, he will likely be ¨confined¨ to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

HOWEVER

This does not mean his life is over, nor does it mean that he should be treated like a member of the living dead, (i.e. those ¨unfortunate¨ enough to have survived a trauma that lives them debilitated). This young man´s inability to walk does not make him any less of a person, nor does it mean he should be treated as such. Yes, it´s ok to be sad, mad, frustrated, etc. (really, that should read ¨It´s ok for him to be sad, mad, frustrated, etc.¨ because as a random person I don´t get the right to feel any of that on his behalf…this is his experience, and I have NO WAY of understanding what he´s going through) but feeling ¨sorry for him¨ is out of the question. Pity in this situation is self-serving and only functions to reinforce my ableism and whatever prejudices I have against people with disabilities (e.g. they´re useless, they can´t do anything, they´d be better off dead, or what have you). Instead of pitying folks with disabilities, why don´t we focus on breaking down and examining why we pity folks with disabilities (ableism) and start using that knowledge to build a world without ableism?

The folks over at ThisAbled are working to do just that (Note: Shameless family plug here…the president and founder of ThisAbled is my uncle). Also, for two great films on kick-ass folks in wheelchairs (with whom I have no relation), check out Darius Goes West and/or Murderball.

Rant over (for the moment).

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