Have you ever experienced discrimination because of your disability? Writer Rebecca Sherwood, who uses a wheelchair, talks about the many different types of discrimination, from accessibility issues to prejudices, and how it can come in many different guises.
Unfortunately, as disabled people, we can probably all recall instances where we haven’t been treated as equals.
To be discriminated against is to be treated unfairly as an individual or as a wider marginalised group, based on preconceived ideas and biases.
Historically, disabled people have been very openly discriminated against, with religions, such as Christianity, having viewed a person with an impairment as being less than human, or believing that a disability is a form of punishment. Although these narratives are no longer an accepted belief, there are still negative stigmas and stereotypes to overcome.
Direct and indirect discrimination
There are several types of discrimination, and an important distinction here needs to be made between direct and indirect discrimination. Direct discrimination involves a specific attack on a person’s disability, whereas indirect discrimination means excluding people based on ignorance or pre-existing policies, regardless of disability.
Prejudice also differs from discrimination in that it is an unconscious bias. However, it does lead to discrimination if the preconceived notion is acted upon. It is essentially the difference between attitude and treatment.
The fact that prejudice regarding disability is deeply embedded in attitudes makes it extremely difficult to identify.
For example, disability discrimination within society has inadvertently led to access discrimination, where venues are inaccessible for wheelchair users whose need for adaptations hasn’t been taken into consideration. For too long, disabled peoples’ participation in society has been an afterthought, with unreliable and cramped lifts, badly designed toilets and makeshift ramps.
This all leads to an overall feeling that disabled people are undervalued, diminishing their sense of self-worth.
I have certainly been affected by access discrimination. The best example of this was during my counselling placement in 2012-2013 when inaccessibility made it really difficult to achieve one of the essential requirements of my course.
For this particular qualification, each student had to carry out 120 hours of face-to-face counselling in order to complete the course. We each had to find and organise the venues we would do this in, and I estimate that I was turned down by 50 different places due to inaccessibility.
In the end, I had to gain my counselling training by seeing clients in my own home. This not only made me feel isolated from the experience my peers were gaining, but also caused me to fall behind in the time frame that we were allocated.
From an outsiders’ perspective, this could be perceived as an unfortunate and unintentional form of exclusion, but that is exactly what access discrimination is.