Every year, our 5th graders participate in the PYP Exhibition (PYP X), which is taking place next week, May 4th and 5th, from 5pm-7:15pm. This event showcases the projects the students have been working on for the last couple months—researching and taking action to help solve local and global issues.

One of these students, Eva B, contacted us to see if we could publish her article on ableism. And after several rounds of research, interviews and revisions, we’re happy to help her raise awareness on this important issue.

If somebody talks about discrimination, your head probably goes to racism, sexism or even ageism—but probably not ableism. 

When people ask me what I have been studying for PYPx, and I tell them ableism, they respond by asking “But what is ableism?” And that needs to change.

If you don’t already know, ableism is when people discriminate towards a person with mental challenges or physical disabilities. Some people don’t actually mean any harm; but by not educating themselves, they might cause the most harm. 

Image source: CBIA.com.

Physical Impairments

Physical impairments are disabilities that you can see. Some examples are Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). These disorders are common in childhood and affect motor skills.

Additionally, many physical disabilities happen from accidents like car crashes or natural disasters. Many times these people end up in wheelchairs.

Research suggests that we should not assume that people want to talk to us about their disabilities or tell us what happened. We must see them as people and not just a person with a physical disability.

Mental Challenges

Mental challenges are a type of disability that you can’t see. Some examples of mental challenges are ADHD, PTSD, anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder. Most mental health challenges develop from past trauma as a child, genetics (relatives have the same mental illness), infections, or brain injuries. 

AISB’s Student Support Service Coordinator Jillian Nichols says that “We all have talents and passions, and also struggle in some areas.” It’s important that we all remember this so we can be more understanding of people who we might not know are struggling.

“Students with diagnosed needs also are creative, artistic, athletic, and excel in many ways,” says Ms. Nichols. “We develop and implement support plans to ensure that these students have access to learning and can demonstrate their understanding, sometimes this is in different ways.” 

Ableism in Schools

Jennifer Keelan-Chaffins is an activist with cerebral palsy. When she just six years old, the adults said that she was not able to be in the school because she was in a wheelchair. Their decision was wrong!

She attended a meeting with some other disabled adults who were organizing protests. She wanted to go. After she attended lots and lots of protests, people still ignored her. So she went to the parliament. The parliament has a lot of steps but was that going to stop her? NO! She got out of her wheelchair and dragged herself all the way to the top. 

This is Jennifer Keelan-Chaffins, climbing up the steps of the US Capital Building, in support of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“If somebody joined my class with a physical impairment/broken leg, for example in a big tag game, he or she could be in a safe zone and need to hand over stuff,” says AISB Elementary Teacher Mr. TJ. “I hate it if people with disabilities are not included because they don’t learn anything and don’t have fun.”

Ableism in the Workplace

Disabled people are often viewed as weak and not able to do things that’s expected of them. Because of this, it’s really hard to find jobs when being disabled.

While it varies from country to country, the United Nations reports that in developing countries, 80-90% of disabled people who are old enough to work, are unemployed.

Tim Horton’s is a fast-food restaurant. Mark Wafer is a former owner one of these restaurants, and has a disability. Because of this, he decided to mostly hire disabled people. Not only was that good but it also helped the business a lot. All the employees were expected to work the same as any other person would. In a video, Mark said that one of his best employees was a man with down syndrome.

What are Microaggressions?

From all the Ted Talks I’ve watched, people with disabilities are discriminated against because people with the privilege of being able-minded or able-bodied either think they’re better than them, or they don’t recognize their own privilege.

Microaggressions are subtle insults that can be intentional or unintentional. For example, when people use phrases like “That’s so dumb,” “I’m so OCD about cleaning,” “I’m so retarded,” it is really offensive. People often use these terms thinking they’re funny, but they’re not.

Microaggressions are not only targeted towards disabled people, but most all minorities. These insults might have to do with race, gender, age, or abilities.

How to Avoid/Be More Aware of Ableism

  1. The easiest way to be aware of ableism is by simply educating yourself. 
  2. Recognizing your own biases towards people is also a good way to show that you care. 
  3. Another way is to be aware when you say microaggressions. Think before you speak!
  4. Don’t assume what people need and want.
  5. Try to make stuff inclusive. (Sometimes you can’t but it’s always good to try!)
  6. When somebody tells you they have a disability, don’t assume they’re faking it, or don’t ask what happened.
  7. Try to include people with challenges/impairments.
  8. Try to put yourself in other people’s shoes.

To find out more about Ableism, check out these links:

Eva B. is one of nearly 70 5th graders who will be presenting at the PYP Exhibition this week. Stop by during lunch on Wednesday, or come after school on the 4th or 5th from 5pm-7:15pm, beginning in the theater.

We wish all the 5th graders the best of luck on their exhibitions! Stay tuned for a photo essay, coming out next week, where we spotlight some of their work.