One of the more insidious things about ableism is that - unlike a lot of other prejudices - there's still an absurd amount of debate over whether it even exists or not. For example: my spellcheck? Still underlining it. A more widespread example would be a recent Twitter hashtag, #ableismexists, which wound up with a not-insignificant number of retweeters who were arguing that it actually did not - while this was in no way a surprise (but rather an unfortunately common response, in my experience), there was one new-to-me experience: At least one of the most prominent deniers was a woman with a disability herself.
The woman in question made a YouTube video where she - while using ableist terms like 'retarded' and 'idiots' - not only insulted the originator of the hashtag's lived experience, but talked about how loving and feeling pride & claiming as part of his identity his disabled body was 'sick'. Obviously, I do not agree with her, but I also felt like her post (which got retweeted a LOT by non-disabled folks, trying to disprove that ableism was a thing in a "See: a disabled person doesn't think it's real, so how are we supposed to take it seriously"way) raised a pretty interesting point - specifically, the idea that if you don't experience something, how can you then feel qualified enough to say that it doesn't exist?
This woman's story is her story - for her, ableism and internalized ableism were not just foreign concepts, but things she found actively oppressing: More than once she said (or intimated) that the closest thing to actual ableism was what 'social justice assholes' were creating by believing in ableism, that accepting disabilities and disabled bodies was an injustice - an ableist trope I myself have had to overcome (more than once, and in more than one way) - that 'accepting' our disabilities was as good as 'giving up', allowing us to 'feel sorry for the poor little cripple', accept a role as victim for the rest of our life.
If that's her experience of ableism, I can see why she'd fight so adamantly against acknowledging it. My experiences accepting the fact that there are systemic, social, financial, legal, informal, educational, medical, (and a million other forms of) injustices against disabled people has helped me to step out of feeling like a victim, and into feeling like a member of a larger community - not just of people with disabilities who are fighting these injustices, but of any community I have ever been a part of.
I never felt more like someone who belonged on my college campus until a group of girls in my dorm helped me realize that some of the policies the school had in place were creating a completely unfair burden on me - a wheelchair user who, because she could sometimes walk a few steps, was forced to use the stairs during a fire drill and wound up incapacitated for months. When it happened, I didn't feel as if I had any recourse, or as if it was the school's job to change its policy: It was only the insistence of the women in my dorm, who saw the result of the policy, who made me recognize that the policy itself could be unfair, that the school could be operating under its own prejudices of 'if you can a walk a few steps, you can take the stairs', and that that was an inequality that needed to be addressed. I didn't feel more like a victim because someone explained to me that the rules were unjust; I felt LESS like one, because now I had something I could fight to change. My ability to use the stairs was not going to change (no matter how much I may have wanted it to), so the policy needed to.
Figuring out that doctors aren't always without prejudice (particularly when it comes to treating chronic pain patients), has empowered me to step away from more than one doctor who was actively doing me harm. Witnessing that some so-called 'advocacy groups' work against the group they're supposedly advocating for has made me a more conscientious advocate myself, has taught me to listen to the people who are being spoken for, to give them the space to speak for themselves, wherever possible. Recognizing ableism in larger society, and in my life, has allowed me to (among many other things) set more realistic goals for myself, commiserate with and fight for other oppressed groups, speak up on my own/other disabled people's behalves, step out of the mentality that - although my disability isn't something I would have chosen - it isn't something I can live well with.
For me, accepting my disability has been a long and complicated process - I still sometimes struggle with the realization that a lot of things are not going to happen for me, because of my health, and that that's ok. I still sometimes struggle not to push myself too hard, because it always ends up with dire health consequences when I do. I still sometimes have an issue with feeling like I'm not doing enough to be considered helpful, that I have to miss out on too many 'normal' days with my friends and family for me to be worth them sticking around for. That I still have value even if I am contributing nothing financially. All of those issues (and so many more) are things that I accept are internalized ableism - thought processes that have decided my value as a human being is lessened by my chronic illnesses and disabilities. Accepting that the way I feel sometimes has more to do with a screwed up value system (capitalist societal norms of value being connected to financial contribution, for example) is 100% more empowering to me than thinking that I am worthless because of something I cannot control.
I'm not discounting that woman's life or experiences - if she feels like ableism is a detriment to her personally, and to disabled people on a larger scale, that's her right, and it's her right to say so when the issue is addressed (which is why I'm not linking to her video: I'm not trying to start hate anywhere). But I think to ignore and dismiss and discount the people the tag - and those of you who participate in BADD every year, and millions of more disabled people - is equally unfair.
Just because it is not your experience, doesn't mean it's not valid.
To read about some more perspectives on (Dis)Ableism, head on over to the Goldfish's abode: BADD 2016.