Webster’s dictionary defines the word ableism as….Okay. Relax. This isn’t a leaving cert essay! “But”, you cry, “Therese (Because that’s my name!) what the actual duck (Bloody autocorrect!) is ‘ableism’ and what does it have to do with anti-maskers?”.
Well (Clears throat haughtily) speaking from the perspective of someone who was made disabled later in life because of an accident I, like many able-bodied people, benefited hugely from how this world is “set up”. It never occurred to me that every aspect of human interaction starts from the perspective of being able-bodied and THEN circles back to include people with disabilities.
“Great. We’ve put the staircase in. Oh shoot. We’ve got to add a ramp!”.
“Right, that’s the 20 toilet cubicles installed. Best put just one disabled toilet in and the rest can just piss themselves waiting for it to be free”.
Another “gem”: “Unfortunately as this is a listed building we simply cannot make it wheelchair accessible!” (Even though legally they’re obliged to under the Disability Act 2005 but only so long as it doesn’t “affect the architectural or archaeological significance of the building or place”. So, in other words, a building is more important than a disabled person!!!). Then there are the disabled parking spaces without dropped kerbs which only serve to hinder users. The list goes on, and on, AND ON!!
However not all disabilities are visible (Though there is an argument that they’re not “invisible” if you know how to look but that’s another topic for another time). Many people live with non-visible disabilities and therefore require accommodations specific to their needs.
Making a more fair society
“But, Therese, you still haven’t told me how anti-maskers are ableist!”.
Relax your khakis will ya. I’m getting to that part! Look, I’ve been without an audience for over a year and finally get to write an article. Bloody indulge me, ok?!?!?
People with disabilities need certain accommodations made for us so that we may access life to the same extent as able-bodied people. That’s something I’m sure we can all agree on, right? At any moment, any one of us could have their life irrevocably altered and a society is only as strong as how it treats its most vulnerable citizens.
So our society has a framework of support in place to help those amongst us with specific needs; from financial support to medical assistance to physical modifications, all designed with the viewpoint of providing assistance where required. Now these are not just provided to all. They are only dispensed to those who truly need them. And believe me, they are hard fought and quite often woefully underfunded.
In order to secure any type of disability assistance one has to apply for them. Speaking from exhausting experience I can assure you the process is ducking grim!!!! To obtain disability benefit I had to complete an extremely lengthy form, not to mention provide pages and pages of back up evidence as well as medical records only to discover my household income was above the threshold. Trust me, the threshold ain’t that high and we ain’t that well off! Similarly, I was ineligible to obtain free travel unless I was over 65 and/or in receipt of disability benefit. Same with subsidised utility bills. Can you see a pattern? Bear in mind this process took almost 9 months to discover I wasn’t entitled to squat! After years of paying PRSI and USC.
The process is exhausting enough when you are NOT a chronic pain sufferer dependent on morphine. And it’s downright demoralising when you put in all that effort for nothing. To date the only “benefit” I finally received was a disabled parking tag. Again, another long form, signed and verified by a doctor with medical records AND signed by the Gardaí. Oh, and it’s not free! It costs €35 to obtain one and is only valid for two years. It doesn’t seem like a lot of money but when you’re out of work with no disability benefit, it is!
So I think I’ve painted a pretty grim account of what to expect if you suddenly find yourself disabled and NEED assistance. Lots of forms, lots of medical proof (which can and does cost money) and lots of effort for most likely a “computer says ‘no’” response! However I, like many people with disabilities, soldier on reliant on the kindness of family, terrified of a future without the ability to earn money, something I took for granted after I had worked hard to obtain many qualifications in order to have job opportunities.
Now let’s look at the modus operandi of the average anti-masker, shall we?
They barge into shops and businesses, smartphone on livestream DEMANDING their right not to wear a mask under the provisions made in the Health (Preservation and Protection and Other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) Act 2020 which was signed into law on 20 March last year.
These provisions allow those people, who because of a physical or mental illness or a disability, or because it would cause severe distress — along with other exemptions — to not have to wear a face covering. The reason for this exemption is there are in fact people who cannot wear them. These people have been DIAGNOSED with a condition or disability that prevents them from wearing a face covering.
So this brings me to the ableism part, finally!
I know people who cannot wear face coverings and they have obtained a simple letter from their GP which they present to shop security/retail staff. They are then either offered assistance if needed or allowed to proceed with no fuss. Much the same as my disabled parking tag. I keep that in my bag as it should only be used when I am in the car. I must display it so it can be seen and that entitles me to park legally in disabled parking spaces. That tag represents me providing EVIDENCE of my disability.
Now let’s go back to the anti-masker again. They scream and shout that they have a “medikulll exzemptshion” and flash a homemade sign (Quoting UK laws! I kid you not!), cut out by hand and rammed into a lanyard which they “proudly” wave as their “proof” of disability, all the while shouting “You do not have de right to ask me my medikullll biznizzz!”.
Can you see why this pisses off myself and many other GENUINE people with disabilities??? Why do we have to play by the rules but anti-maskers refuse to? If we look at what abelism means — “Discrimination in favour of able bodied people”— their actions are textbook! They are, in the absence of any VERIFIABLE medical proof, able-bodied people who are benefiting from being able-bodied whilst simultaneously “benefiting” from badly needed provisions designed to help those who truly need them. Another example is using the disabled toilet when you don’t need to.
Social media trolls
So, as the pandemic has progressed I have become increasingly fed up with this trend and use social media and comedy (Cos there’s duck all gigs!!!) to highlight this behaviour. I find comedy is a wonderful means of getting the point across and use it in a lot of my other activist work.
However this comes at a price: Namely, trolls!
Since speaking out against the rising far right in Ireland in 2019 at Google HQ I have had more than my fair share of trolls. I’ve had threats from “Push her out into traffic” to threats to abduct me and poison me and starve me, and on and on and on! One of the trolls’ favourite sticks to attack me with is my weight, which in fact is linked to my disability. They love to “make fun of” my weight and be reductive by saying things like “being fat isn’t a disability”, etc.
Now listen (Or read!). I’m a big girl, literally and metaphorically. Ok, “girl” is a stretch. I’m also a comic. More specifically a “limp-up comic”, a description I had to coin when I could no longer function without my trusty cane, “Citizen” (Soooo many lame gags!). I make my “living” from slagging and joking and in my game if you dish it out, ya gotta take it. Much like a porn star, I take it on the chin(s). I’m also not detached from reality
I’m well aware of my size. I only have to attempt to put on my large size jeans to know I’m overweight and to be perfectly honest with you, health risks aside, my weight doesn’t determine who I am. Yes, it makes aspects of my life harder but not as much as not being able to walk or being morphine dependent because the pain is so extreme. I’ve even been on ketamine but didn’t find it as effective. This is my life now and it would seem that’s the way it might remain until I die. I am still awaiting another nerve block which may or may not work but can’t get it because….COVID!!!!
Now, here is the real kicker: Each and every time I report these nasty trolls to Twitter or Facebook for abusing me (FFS, it’s stipulated in Twitter’s community guidelines in relation to abusive or harmful tweets that disability is a “protected category”) I get told “we didn’t find a violation of our rules in the content you reported!”. Every. Single. Time!!!!
So what can I do except block these trolls and move on???? Oh I know. I’LL WRITE A DUCKING ARTICLE ABOUT IT FOR THE BEACON (Thanks my lovelies!). And that, my darlings, is why feigning a disability whilst simultaneously refusing to verify it is ableist….AS DUCK!
Therese Cahill is Ireland’s first female “limp-up” comic. You can find her observations and videos on Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.
Featured image via Youtube – Screenshot