Man in wheelchair at base of large staircase unable to move up. Able-bodied man running up the stairs to financial gain.

From the CEO: The Hardest Part of Disability is Being Ignored

I have been saturated lately with “…ism” words. Words like racism, sexism, and ageism to name a few.  They each reference a form of oppression. Cruel or unjust treatment to individuals in our community who are different, often through no choice of their own.

One other ism is ableism. Ableism is when a person with a disability is stigmatized, stereotyped or pitied or, in a simpler definition, ableism is the belief that disability is a bad thing.

Oppression can be expressed in different ways. It can be exhibited personally through attitudes and behaviors. Are you likely to interrupt a woman before she is done speaking or do you overlook an older applicant? Oppression can be demonstrated culturally through language and norms. What words are in your vocabulary that might reflect that cultural oppression? Girls? Sweetie? Thug? Or is the oppression seen institutionally with restrictions with education and housing? How diverse is the neighborhood you live in?

Fort Wayne has started a new initiative to address all oppression and AWS Foundation is joining. I would encourage you to learn about United Front. Throughout Fort Wayne, individuals, work groups, anyone who is interested, is learning about the damage of oppression and working to identify a path towards the goal of equity and inclusion. We are joining in that path to inclusivity for all because we know that true inclusive thinking is acknowledging that:

disability is a wonderful part of diversity
disability is a part of Fort Wayne
disability is more than a diagnosis; it is a cultural identity
people with disabilities have the right to live where they want and the way they want.
I heard someone this week say that we needed to get used to the “D” word. There are many who have a physical and/or mental condition that limits how they interact with their environment (yes, that is the definition of disability). Our opportunity is to meet that disability with compassion because the hardest part of being disabled is being ignored.

To quote the philosopher Schopenhauer, “Compassion is the basis of morality”. I aspire to meet each person with a disability with compassion. Not pity, for that is ableism.

Compassion is kindness and caring and the willingness to help another. Compassion literally means “to suffer together” but I also believe it is compassionate to prevent the suffering of others. If we work to allow an individual equal standing and access in our society, isn’t that compassion? To see and acknowledge all persons, to introduce yourself, to call each person by name, to include them in the conversation, to invite each to join in, to offer a seat at your table, that is compassion in that you have truly engaged and not ignored.

The opposite of compassion is indifference. We are a moral community. We cannot be indifferent to those who are different.