Able-ism at the YMCA…a brief Rant and perspective

Alright, I am going to diverge from my normal blogs to tackle the prevailing issues and images of able-ism in society.

Able-ism @ the YMCA

Able-ism @ the YMCA

First, I am going to state this loud and clear…the intent of this image is not to cause harm, I understand that this is supposed to be supportive and for folks who take things at face value and do not read into the subtext would not see this as disrespectful or harmful in anyway.  It is not “bad” people who do this, in fact it is the very opposite, very well intentioned people create these things in an attempt to show solidarity and compassion for folks who are disabled, in this particular case physically disabled.

Now, I have used a cane for going on 13 years, and I have been forced to live a life where the perception of infirmity by society writ large becomes my defining characteristic. Let us not even go into what happens when I self-advocate as someone with an autism spectrum disorder.  The problem is, these images reduce us to the perceived physical impairment as somehow needing more assistance, and certainly in a few situations accommodations are needed, but when they take front stage over a healthy sense of identity and self-determination, it reduces us to nothing more than the perception of our infirmities.

Why did this image upset me so much though? I see examples of able-ism all the time. The chosen caption is what makes this image so offensive to those of us with physical disabilities.  The word “Responsibility” as defined by Merriam-Webster ( includes two pertinent uses of the word, that of being morally obligated and that of being bound by duty.  So, in short something one is forced to do as a result of societal expectations versus assisting someone, ANYONE, simply because it is the right and moral thing to do.  Now, the intent in this case could simply be that the individual is responsible for assisting, heck even responsible for allowing self-determination, but one cannot infer these things from a simple one word example.  Denotative definition aside, we then have to look at the connotative meaning of the word, which sadly becomes synonymous with obligation and even being burdened by having to do so.  So in classic correlative over-thinking, one can then interpret this as a burden to assist the individual.  Not the intent I am quite certain, I believe this was done with the utmost compassion.  But it is still offensive none the less, it puts the focus on the disability and then puts the burden on those who are able bodied to take care of or assist the disabled individual in a paternalistic fashion.  If I was to apply basic research ethics to this image ala the Belmont Report (See it Here) this is an example of something that fails the harm/benefit analysis, because it unintentionally singles out a population and has the potential to cause harm, in this case, emotional and social. Yeah I know, all touchy feely, be a man a grow a pair right? Wrong, see it is the small details that reinforced stereotypes, that feed into the social model for disability, and continue to define individuals by what others perceive in object reality but is than subjectively categorized into a paternalistic worldview.

No one should be forced to feel responsible for someone’s physical challenges, and quite frankly I am offended when I hear parents shush their children to not point out my physical disability, it is there, it is obvious, and the children simply want answers.  Instead of telling them not to stare, which reinforces our difference and sets us apart as “other”, we should be able to inquire, show general interest and de-mystify the perceived disabilities in a healthy manner that lets us move on to other more important things, an able bodied person’s attempt to shield us from something we deal with everyday just seems asinine.  Quite frankly I don’t have the time or interest in having to constantly pander to ableist guilt, much like white guilt in race relations, we need to move past the guilt if we hope to have a healthy and meaningful conversation on the subject.

So in summation, images and captions, like anything written loses the intended context too easily because of how everyone subjectively processing the information, what seems beneficent to one is harmful to another, and ethically we need to move past this. In this case, I sincerely hope the YMCA not only removes and replaces this, but takes it not as me attacking them, but as a teachable moment on how we unintentionally cause harm.  Yelling, screaming, and attacking the people who are attempting to do “good” just alienates them, it is not able-splanning to point out the intentions are good, good people do harmful things, the ole quote “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” applies quite readily.  But I refuse to attack people who are attempting to be decent people, that just alienates and draws lines in the sand, and defensive people cannot communicate effectively.  But we should point out these things when we see them, we should do so with compassion and understanding though, we need to educate not alienate.

Why I fail at being an individual…. (Semi-rant)

So the title makes this sound extra dire, but it is not really, just part of the reality that is me.  Folks will notice that my amount of writing has dropped substantially, this is not just weather and cold making me have issues focusing, it has a direct correlation to no longer going to see a therapist.   Now why is that? Well actually it is quite simple, I cannot maintain momentum of thought on my own, in a way I am half an individual instead of a full one, my intellect for all of it’s potential is unable to be applied on my own, I have to be in a proper environment.  So, without a weekly chance to have a sounding board, talk about interesting things, and thus get my gears grinding, I instead sink down into indolence, wasting my time letting the days and hours tick past because I cannot focus my own intellect in worthwhile endeavors.  See, I can’t thrive just off books, or youtube videos, or even forum discussions. I hate the written word and one sided information, I desire debate and conversation, yet the days of the coffee shop filled with eager young minds are mostly behind us, certainly in my area.  Instead it is folks plugged into their computers and social networks and the groups of eager minds in my area are mostly the Free Staters, so consumed with their sense of purpose and anger at the injustice they perceive everywhere, that they ruin their own message with feeble attempts to gain publicity, and hanging out with angry self-defeatists I have done plenty of in my life time and I have no practical use for them.  So, I tried to dive into MMO’s again and gaming, and still there I see so many damaged individuals getting their kicks off trolling, griefing, and bullying.  Bullying is everywhere these days, harsh judgement and the dehumanizing of others, on the internet of course it is particularly easy as there is far less accountability for one’s actions, and the veil of anonymity helps hide the person.  But it does not hide the damage, it does not hide how our society has been so focused on the alpha get it all extroverted individualism, that basic human empathy and understanding has been sacrificed upon the altar of a warped perception of what makes us in the US “exceptional”.  I have no place in this world, the anger and ire, judgement and general douche-baggery of it all, I find it abhorrent, and yet I am supposed to function within it. Somehow, I still care what happens to our species, when the vast amount of our species cares shockingly little for those outside of their in-group. Now, that is not universal, there are great many folks who devote themselves to great causes and helping others, but it is a small percentage compared to the culturally programmed robots who go about their days doing just as the dominant social paradigm dictates and so grounded in the hear and now, that their ability to see the big picture and empathize with others is reduced to a small scale, so willing to have their small transitory creature comforts built on the blood on innocents through out the world.  And in all of this, I fail. See, I will most likely never write the book I have thought about, not enough data, and I have already pieced it all together, so now it bores me…yes, bores me.  I have decimated the MBTI, I have put human context into an equation, and yet I will do nothing with it.  I have talked about economics, about attacking the underlying major contributors to mental illness and criminality, pointed out how we use bullying in our day to day endeavors as means of getting what marketing has programmed us to want.  Our hijacked sense of self identity, carefully crafted using modern science and tried and true propaganda, we are taking such a short sighted approach to existence.  And for all my ability to see the patterns, to test the veracity of my logic, I am stuck, the tortured would be philosopher, the grand thinker who cannot get his thoughts out.  And thus, I am but half a functional human being, and given my criticisms and friends who are actively in academia, I would not likely ever be allowed to set foot in such hallowed halls, as thinking outside the box and pointing out such things are not desired by most institutions, and the competition for those that are more daring is fierce. On top of it, I lack the “credentials” since I chafe at the traditional system, one must memorize names, dates, and theories to an extreme to prove that one has the intellect to be an academic, the rule of rote learning has proverbially lobotomized our institutions of higher learning in favor of creating educated laborer’s instead of true innovators and thinkers.  The modern group think even ponders if the world needs genius, well unless such genius is in something quantifiable, such as mathematics, we cannot even answer that question, so many brilliant minds, genius or just near, will never make it into the modern academic world to share their unique insights and perspectives. GRE’s, grades, endorsements, the financial means, all these things layer and layer hoops too winnow down applicants, and as a result, inherently limit the kinds of intellects who make it that far.  But there are so many other ways of being, ways of thinking that add to our cumulative knowledge as a species, but many of us, just simply will not find a place in the current world paradigm. Many are less defective than I am, me, I am just a sounding board who connects patterns, and as such useless to furthering human endeavor myself without some direction or purpose.  Given that many of the places I might stand a chance of getting a foot in the door are urban environments where the barrage of sensory data overwhelms me, I find myself stuck, isolated, and contained.  I am unsure of how I will progress from here, an intellect with no outlet, I dream of being lobotomized myself, to be tucked back into “The Matrix” and carry on in ignorance, for then I could endeavor in some small manner that has meaning.  I have no followers, no acolytes, no audience or friends with whom to share the constant barrage of my thoughts, and I still refuse to mask it all in psuedoscience and chicanery, I will not become some New Age guru, or cult leader, or a host of other things my skill sets would allow for, my integrity is not for sale, and I will lie down starving in a ditch before I do so.  We need more people of principle, not folks just trying to survive in an economy stacked against them, we need to evolve our understanding of the human condition, neurological variations, and the value in folks who are different.  But right now, though I see clearly some paths to improving such things, I cannot get it done, I do not have the energy or the focus to do so, and this small blog is all I have to share my meager thoughts with the world, to a limited audience, with no tangible gain.  This is the fate of being half a functional person, constantly distracted, ever seeking to assimilate more and more knowledge, and never being able to stop long enough to properly share all that I learn.