The term “ableism” has arisen in recent decades to describe the life experiences of able-bodied or neurotypical people impeding disabled people’s quality of life and ability to perform activities of daily living. Very few able-bodied people realize the struggles that disabled individuals face on a regular basis.
Some disabilities are visible — for example, most people know that someone who walks with a white cane likely has a visual impairment. Others with disabilities may appear able-bodied on the outside, but suffer untold agony inside. Here are five things you might be taking for granted if you aren’t disabled:
1. Hopping in the Shower
The alarm goes off, and you reach over to hit snooze a requisite number of times before finally lifting your weary head off the pillow and stumbling to the shower. Chances are, as reluctant as you may have felt to wake up, it didn’t pain you.
Grooming proves more difficult for those with disabilities. If you live with paralysis (or chronic pain conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis), you may take 20 minutes or more just to get out of bed, let alone wash yourself. If you suffer from postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), you may need that same amount of time simply to find your equilibrium to prevent falling… before you even head to the shower.
2. Your Morning Commute
Chances are, you hop in your car or catch a bus to get to work. And you probably complain about sitting in traffic, too, amirite?
Many people with physical disabilities, visible or not, lose their ability to drive. If you’ve ever broken a leg, you have some idea of how much paralysis or lost limbs may impact your life. If you’re able-bodied, chances are you’ve never experienced basilar or hemiplegic migraine, both of which can impair driving ability. While many people with these conditions experience auras or sensations that indicate that a bad attack is coming, others lose consciousness or limb control with little warning.
A seemingly simple walk to work can prove risky for those with auditory impairments, too. While most people hear danger approaching, if you have a hearing impairment, you need to rely far more on your other senses, as signals like beeping crosswalk signs remain inaudible.
3. Building a Solid Career Path
You get good grades, you work hard, and you get ahead, right? It’s a lot easier to have a solid career trajectory when you’re able-bodied, though.
Except in the case of obvious disabilities, diagnoses for certain disorders can take years to attain. Along the way, you miss work days for both illness symptoms and specialist appointments. Even the most generous employers still prioritize the needs of the majority against your individual needs.
If your disability proves to be an undue business burden, your employer can legally let you go. And in some jurisdictions, collecting unemployment proves more difficult with a disability, too. In that case, not only are your career prospects limited, but you also may well have no income while you job-search.
4. Starting a Home and Family
For the able-bodied, first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby carriage. But finding someone who understands your disability? That’s much tougher.
Additionally, if you have a rare disease that leads to disability, how willing would you be to expose your child to the same risk? If you’ve endured the trials of living with a disability, you must accept that having children may expose your little ones to the same level of impairment — and in a nation lacking universal health care, that can be a scary prospect.
5. Having a Social Life
One of the most isolating things about living with a disability is watching your social circle ghost you. However, those who live with disabilities must learn to conserve their energy just to get through the day, which often means taking a hard pass on happy hours, clubs and concerts.
Activities which may have formerly proved easy can quickly grow overwhelming when you have a disability. Because you have to work harder to do everything, from walking across a room to making it to the office, you may have very little energy for anything else. Those who live with disabilities don’t want to flake all the time, but prioritizing their health has to come first.
Showing More Empathy To People With Disabilities
People with disabilities face challenges that able-bodied folks often find unimaginable. But you don’t need to understand a person’s disorder in order to demonstrate empathy. If someone you love suffers any form of disability, take the time to speak with them about their condition — you’ll gain a deeper understanding of their struggles and maybe even pave the way for change.