The hidden trials of having disabilities

More than 80% of people with disabilities face bullying and discrimination- being more aware of these problems could help


Graphic created by Hunter O'Connor

Ableism Advocate: Shining light on a subject that is widely unmentioned, this infographic explains the effect that ableism has on people with disabilities.

I have autism. In my experience, not many people know what that means. What I do know is that many people, especially students, are misinformed about disabilities. Unfortunately, misinformation usually leads to discrimination. This kind of discrimination is called Ableism, and a whopping 82% of people with disabilities face ableism-based bullying. Compare this to the overall statistic of students who say they were bullied- 21%. Is it fair that I had an 8 in 10 chance of being bullied? Is it fair that anyone with a disabling condition is more likely to be bullied than not? Realistically, people who don’t have disabilities tend to not understand those that do. Admitting that our community could be ableist is the first step– and the next is seeking to understand.
If the people who were ableist to me understood my condition more, then they wouldn’t have acted the way they did. As it was though, I faced ableist-based bullying throughout all my years in school.

When I think about my own experiences with ableism, a few moments come to mind. I grew up in Arizona and attended school there through ninth grade. Above all else, I remember junior high. That particular district’s rule says that every school has to have an anti-bullying program, so my school carefully crafted one that would put the responsibility on the students. Not to mention, the staff were pretty much known for brushing off bullying based on ableism, with an attitude that screamed “your problems are less valid because I don’t understand them”. As such, the staff seemed to turn a blind eye as my fellow autistic peers and I were ostracized from the crowd.

I struggled with ableism daily. My homeroom class was a tight-knit group of students, a group that I was never included in no matter how hard I tried. I didn’t understand that they were trying to exclude me from their group, so I often tried to join their discussions, much to their annoyance. If I tried to talk with them, I was often immediately told to “shut up” as if what I had to say had less value. This caused a lot of self-esteem issues for me, and even today, I sometimes struggle to add my input to discussions, thinking that people are annoyed by me and would rather I don’t talk to them. The boys of the group were particularly nasty to other students. At least once a day, usually during second period, one of the students would find a new, creative way to tell me that they think I should kill myself. This is something that should never be said to another person. As someone who had struggled with depression for many years, including at the time, this was very jarring. The sad fact is that people with autism are 28 times more likely to develop suicidal thoughts than neuro-typical people. (Gizmodo)

The thing that troubles me the most about these years was that I never stood up for myself. I was always up in arms, quick to defend anyone else who I thought was being treated unfairly. My own sense of justice never extended to me, and I just allowed people to treat me this way. I regret that choice, which is why writing this article is so important to me.

Being supportive of your disabled peers is easier than you may think. There’s a rule of thumb commonly used in the autistic community- assume competency. Do not assume that someone with a disability can’t do anything.

An anonymous junior who has autism said, “disabilities are not always disabilities. Sometimes disabilities can actually give you abilities that may help you. Many people with autism have normal to high IQs and some may excel at math, music, or another pursuit. Some highly intelligent people have ADHD. That is true for me; I am above standards in math according to state tests,” he said.

If we need special accommodations, we’ll be sure to let you know. That being said, if someone says they need special accommodations for something, believe them. Chances are, they aren’t just trying to inconvenience you. People with disabilities deserve to be successful just as much as neuro-divergent people.
“(Living with) disabilities is not as easy as it looks,” a senior, who also wished to remain anonymous, said.

People who have disabilities, already have had additional barriers added to their lives that make everyday life difficult. Their peers shouldn’t be one of those things. Instead of assuming someone is stupid or weird, let’s be more understanding. You may be surprised about the new caring and intelligent friends you make, all while making our school a more inclusive place to be.