Social media is generally your best friend or your worst nightmare. It brings people together but also thickens those dividing lines that set one another apart. For me, it’s a way to network and keep up to date with current events. Sometimes, it’s the place where I get my hands dirty by digging in deep and the sight of a new controversy, the way I did yesterday.
Trending hashtags on twitter don’t usually grab my attention, but the fact that it was being used by a friend who doesn’t normally get himself caught up in these things did. Hashtag AbledsAreWeird appears to be taking off in the twitterverse, going so far as to be picked up by high profile news outlets such as NPR. It’s advertised as an avenue for people with disabilities to detail their strange, awkward, insulting or terrifying encounters with able-bodied, non-disabled individuals. Jumping out of our screens with a provocative, attention-getting line, the hashtag has done its job of chronicling these moments for the world to see, but is this really how we want the world to see them?
Let’s dissect this for a second. First of all, the writer in me is screaming in revulsion at the term “ableds.” Really guys, this isn’t a word, doesn’t sound like a word, and shouldn’t be a word. Moving away from my overstimulated grammar brain, ableds are weird? Okay, but are they all bad? Your parents, your co-workers, PCAs and volunteers, they’re “ableds.” and you’re lumping them into the general population indiscriminately. While we’re on that wavelength, it’s going to be hard to get a new volunteer or PCA if the “abled” population is sitting on their phones reading about how they have each wronged some disabled person or another some way somehow.
If we’re going to talk openly about the all too common odd experiences with random strangers, we should at least use this moment to positively influence and educate the wider world. This way, people will learn, understand and empathize rather than sympathize. “ableds” would probably take kinder to such a discussion if they weren’t being called out, trash-talked and labeled as weirdos for doing what they think was good.
The first thing that drew me to this hashtag was my typically quiet friend trying to reinvent the wheel with a more positive, less aggressive spin on the original idea. The second find was this article, written by another person objecting not to the sharing of our stories but to the negative impact this hashtag can have on the bigger picture of inclusion and equality. He would rather use his experiences to #HelpFixTheView than spread slander and animosity by shouting #AbledsAreWeird from the roof tops. Now that I can agree with.
People with disabilities face discrimination and ignorance on a constant basis, but that can only change if we help fix the view. The current hashtag may be helping us take one step forward but also forces us to take two steps back. How about we take three steps forward by not being stereotypically ungrateful jerks and using those moments to #helpFixTheView.