‘That is such an obscure thing’ – an Example of Abled-Privilege

So I once had a conversation with a couple of Canadians about how awful the United States is and about how they would never want to live there. I certainly agree that the United States has great problems, but as far as I can tell, this is true of most of the world – not excluding Canada. They challenged me to name one thing that is better about life in the United States compared to Canada, and the first example that came to mind was the Americans with Disabilities Act, and how accessibility for people with disabilities is generally better in the US than in Canada.

Well, they said that they think Canada has its own ADC, and I said nope, it does not (I later checked and found that Ontario has the Ontarians with Disabilities Act, and that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms prohibits discrimination based on disability – but this does little for the people in, say, Nova Scotia). They then said that they see accessible facilities all the time – which means they have not spent much time in the Montreal subway system (neither have I – but I have seen Je me souviens: Excluded from the Montréal subway since 1966). They then claimed they would rather be disabled in Canada than the United States. They could not cite evidence, they merely *believed* it must be better.

Then they said – and this is the point I really want to bring attention to – that this was such an obscure issue and that, even if accessibility is better in the U.S. than in Canada, it is such a small matter that it should not count. They were laughing about how obscure it is. Even after I said that 20% of Canadians are disabled, they still insisted this was a minor thing (I later found out that, according to the Council of Canadians with Disabilities only 14.3% of Canadians are disabled, but I still think that is substantial).

Now, I do not want to make this about whether Canada or the USA is less awful to disabled people, because both should be much better and there are certainly points in Canada’s favor (the health care system is a huge point in Canada’s favor). What I want to make this about is a) how unaware these people were of disability issues and b) how trivial they think the matter of, say, people with wheelchairs being able to use trains is.

Now, people in the USA are just as ableist as people in Canada – North Americans in general are very ableist. The ableism manifests itself in the ignorance of the major problems people with disabilities face every single day, and in not realizing just how much society does to exclude people with disabilities. And they think it is funny that some people consider this an important issue.

Oh, and the first issue the Canadians brought up when trying to explain why Canada is way better than the United States? The fact that Canada uses the metric system. Because that is a much bigger deal than disability rights [/sarcasm]. And then they made a big deal about gun violence. I know people who have been affected by gun violence … but you know what? I know more people who have been affected by accessibility or lack thereof, and this is a much bigger deal in their lives than gun violence is for the people who have been at gunpoint only once or twice.

I think most people reading this blog have little awareness of disability issues. Today happens to be Blogging about Disablism Day, so this is a great time to learn more about disability. I always learn a lot from the many great posts which come out every year.

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2 thoughts on “‘That is such an obscure thing’ – an Example of Abled-Privilege

  1. Thanks for this! It’s quite horrifying the extent to which disability and disabled people are often used as a symbol of triviality. When politicians are dismissive of equality legislation, they’ll often say something like, “All this fuss just to make sure disabled lesbians are treated fairly!” not considering that, if about 15% of the population are disabled, a conservative estimate would make 1.5% both disabled and queer. Even if only a third of those were lesbian, that’s still a few million people (I’m in the UK, it’d be a few more million in the US).

    I also think that any equality issue is a massive indicator about whether a country, town or community would be a nice place to be. If any people are being shut out, however small their number, then that’s not going to be that great.

    • I am honored that you have left a comment on my blog 😀 I was actually a bit shocked by how willing those two Canadians were to totally dismiss the needs of their compatriots while they were trying to argue that Canada is such a wonderful place (though now that I think about it, it was also quite ironic). But I should not have been surprised – ableism is pretty firmly entrenched throughout the Anglophone world.

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