Have you ever had one of those weeks where it feels the universe is leading you down a path? That’s what this week has been like.
I can’t recall exactly how I stumbled upon this story, whether it was second hand on social media, or as a direct result of the BBC News article, but I learned of Able Emily’s experience of online bullying due to a manipulated image which bore a slogan mocking her use of a wheelchair.
Sadly, this isn’t the first time Emily had been confronted with this image. She originally learned it was posted back in December 2019, requested it’s removal and assumed the matter to be dealt with.
Unfortunately, it reared it’s ugly head again this month. Emily reached out to the poster, whom I understand had both a Facebook and TikTok post containing the image, asking for it’s removal.
She received no response. After a complaint to Facebook, it was removed but the good folks at TikTok did not reply, and so it remained there until the user eventually removed it.
Understandably upset, Emily had also written an open letter to the poster.
From the comments, I could see lots of support for her, and rightly so. Nobody deserves to be told to kill themselves or be degraded on the basis of their disability, or any other aspect for that matter. This is wicked and absolutely ableist.
Many of the statements called out the ableist nature of the post, and the ableist behaviour of Miss Dastinot. I didn’t know it at the time, but this week’s buzzword would be ableism. I was appalled at what had happened but glad to see the support Emily had, until I saw this arsehole in the comments.
I was enraged by this but I kept my distance. I have a policy of not arguing with idiots. They’re rarely worth the effort.
Please note the lack of a profile picture. For someone so outspoken, he’s damn afraid of being seen. The replies are now absent, either through being flagged or a change of heart – flagging is my bet.
Death threats are not a part of life, if you’re receiving these notify the authorities. If you’re sending them, take a long hard look at yourself, stop being such a twisted creepy bastard, and get help.
I digress. Emily got a reply from Miss Dastinot, inexplicably on a post from last year, where she offered an apology of sorts…
Emily gave her reply, keeping it concise and stating her intent to avoid argument, only pleading that Trina take a moment in future to consider what she posts and shares on social media. That’s how you deal with this. Bravo Emily.
Barring Trina’s niece entering a poorly equipped war of words in the comments section, calling people “bitch” and “MF”, and Trina’s own post pointing out that things had gone silent – surely you’d want this? It looks like the matter has been dealt with.
I only hope that lessons are learned and Emily doesn’t have to see this horrible image again. She does some amazing work and doesn’t deserve this nonsense.
In the edit, it seems this blog is pretty long. Please feel free to grab a drink.
A sign from the universe (or Facebook’s marketing algorithm).
As I said above, ableism would set the tone for the rest of my week, resulting in this post.
Out of absolutely nowhere on Friday. I saw a Facebook ad for a fitness service, run by a man named Dom Thorpe, the comments section of which caused me to pause as there were accusations of ableism.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t find this image ableist initially. Mostly due to the fact I could see the sentiment – lets focus on our abilities – and there’s representation from a wheelchair user. I found it trite and lazy but not offensive beyond that.
I could see a conflict on both sides of the debate, but there were far more on the negative side. So I looked again and thought about it some more.
Had it read disABLED – would it have invoked the same response? I don’t know. I couldn’t see the ableism because I originally thought the context was clear.
I looked around a bit and found that Dom had written a blog in response and suddenly my perception changed. See the snippets below.
Ahh.. now I see ableism.
Lets start with the defensive – I can’t win!
Nobody has to win, you just need to realise that there are viewpoints you may not have considered, that input from the disabled community has value, and do your best to be inclusive.
Your concept of an ability spectrum is inherently ableist, as you’re actively segregating people based on their physicality.
If there’s a higher or lower end of your scale as you describe it, there has to be a mid-section, at which point you create a defined range of who is to be considered disabled and who is not.
As for just “sitting back” and putting up “at least a bit of a fight”, in many cases there is no scope for increased physical activity, or activity at all. For that reason, your statement is incredibly negative and damning, despite your clear intentions trying to send a positive message.
I have nephew with microcephaly and cerebral palsy, who is visually impaired, non-ambulant, can’t speak and is unable to eat by himself.
Yet he should be ensuring he doesn’t slide down the spectrum? It’s his fault for not fighting? Do you see the problem here?
This becomes all the more curious when you consider that Dom works with people with disabilities. Perhaps ableism is a spectrum of ignorance? – Its not.
Please don’t get me wrong, I am not saying Dom is a bad person, that would be untrue and unkind of me but there’s a want of understanding here.
He should strive to understand the point of view of others, it’s not necessarily and attack when someone expresses that they’re upset. It might even be a teaching moment, if you’re open to it.
I later received a message from an Instagram follower to whom a friend posed the question of ableism. She pointed out that Dom has a video, where he elaborates on his “AbIlity Spectrum”. It was worse than I ever could have expected.
I watched the whole thing but felt that everything after the 7th minute was white noise, maybe that was because in those first seven minutes I saw a tone deaf individual make some ridiculous statements in support of his spectrum concept.
The most memorable quotes, recorded verbatim, are:
Are you disabled, in fact is anyone really disabled?
Yes, I am disabled, thanks for asking, and yes people are really disabled!
Where’s that Pikachu gif when I need it?
I find this line of thinking really damaging. There is no need to call into question the legitimacy of disability, it is real, it does exist and it does matter.
If others start to think like this our community will become more marginalised than ever. Be better!
Let’s take Andy Murray, he’s a little bit disabled, disabled (air quotes and a dismissive tone) at the moment because he’s had this funny hip injury.
Hold on, he’s sustained an injury. He is injured he is not disabled.
If you were to fall out of a tree and break your leg, you have a broken leg, not a disability. It will likely heal and you will likely be well after.
If I broke my leg, the muscular atrophy would be irreparable, due to the nature of my disability but the break itself is an injury, not an additional disability.
My wife can’t do chin-ups, is she disabled? Well no, but she is compared to me cause I can do chin-ups, I can do one arm pressups, not very many people can do one arm pressups.
That’s great but can you pull your head out of your arse? – Okay, that was rude but this is just so offensive and boastful.
Your wife is unable to do chin-ups, so she’s disabled compared to you? Well that goes for how many million other people? Able is not the opposite of disabled!
Your wife is not disabled because she can’t do a chin-up, that’s just stupid.
You got like Stephen Hawking right at the bottom, okay? Can’t really move at all can just sort of sit there and maybe operate his chair a little bit.
Are you actually kidding me? World renowned Theoretical Physicist Stephen Hawking CH CBE FRS FRSA and you’ve distilled his ability down to maybe operating his chair a little bit.
Putting aside the fact that Hawking died in 2018, I dare say the man has proven his worth and contributed more to the world that many of us could ever hope. He accomplished more than just operating his chair! What an ignorant thing to say.
This just brings home that people really need to think before they speak, and every once in a while reevaluate their beliefs. I have no doubt that Dom here means well but his beliefs are extreme and fundamentally flawed.
There is no universe where I would accept your concept of ability vs disability, they aren’t opposites! I know I’m repeating myself but I feel it needs said again.
I’d encourage you to reconsider your philosophy and recognise that it is ignorant, harmful and quite simply does not help! It actually sets us back and emboldens societal misconceptions that make life harder for out amazing community.
If you could just take the time to consider the effects your words and actions have on the disabled community, your target demographic, I promise people wouldn’t be giving you “crap” your word, not mine.
Back to that image.
Taking a step back from everything I’ve seen. I still found myself confused about that image on it’s own. I can see both sides but I thought I’d put it to a vote.
And the survey says!
There is a difference of one vote between the two.
This proves to me that ableist content, when slight, can be individual to those who witness it, with their reaction formed of their own experiences, beliefs and agenda and may go under the radar for others.
When blatant, it is much easier to call out, to agree on and take action against. Regardless of how subtle the instance, ableism in any form needs to be challenged and discussed.
I’ll admit the image alone has me on the fence but everything I’ve learned after skews me towards a yes, as I now know more about the creator’s beliefs.
If I’ve learned one thing from all of this, ableism comes in many forms. It doesn’t necessarily come from a place of aggression or disdain but unchallenged beliefs and preconceptions.
A quick search on Google shows me that Dom is a man who does charity work, with videos on an MS charity YouTube channel – his support is absolutely a good thing yet his perspective on disability is wrong in more ways than I can count.
There’s no clear conclusion for me to draw but it seems to me that if something is potentially offensive, or actually offensive, we should raise our concerns. If the person we’ve raised them too doesn’t adjust or take our views on board, that shows they are not as inclusive as they claim to be, and that’s 100% on them.
I write this post not out of malice but concern, and no doubt there will be those who disagree with what I’ve said, that’s perfectly valid.
I encourage the discourse in the comments and on my social channels.
Thanks for reading, the next one will be lighter in tone, I promise.