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Equal Access Issues: Being Heard, but Not Being Listened To

I am writing this post kind of as an extension to my previous post on workplace bullying. I consider this to not really be bullying (or at least not intentional bullying), but it is nevertheless frustrating to deal with. One of the biggest barriers that individuals with disabilities have, whether that's in the workplace or in higher academia is institutional discrimination. It's systemic, and sometimes, it can balance across a delicate tightrope between right and wrong. The common misconception that people have with disabled individuals are that they always need extra help or pampering. They are a burden. Best case scenario, this means that we will get tons of extra help that we never asked for, but sometimes this can be degrading, especially when we have a strong work ethic. We know we can get the work done. We know the work is not being done correctly by other able-bodied people, and yet, for some strange reason, everyone refuses to listen to us. This happens to me all the time as a person with major depressive disorder.

I am always "Negative Nancy" or "Debbie Downer", whenever I become critical of anyone else's work, or express concern. Even if people don't outright call me these things, I can tell whenever I get upset or annoyed at something that people look at me different, almost like I'm a sweet, innocent babe who doesn't understand the world yet. It's frustrating. It's irritating. And it's downright annoying. For some reason, the moment people realize that we have a disability, we are no longer fully functional human adults. We are a charity case that needs extra help, time, and attention. Attaboy. Just take those little itty bitty baby steps, and before you know it, you can order off the big boy's menu!

Wow! You did that report all by yourself? What a big boy you are! Who's "daddy's little engineer"? You are!

So, why am I writing about all of this? This is something that I feel many disabled people have to deal with on a consistent basis, and something that still needs to be addressed. We didn't ask to be born this way, and we're not mentally challenged. Some of us, in fact, are very smart, and have completed postgraduate studies at high level institutions.

As a matter of fact, while I was in the Navy as a junior officer, I saw a similar sort of situation between junior officers and enlisted folk. People automatically assume, due to the inherent elitism that is present in the military that officers must be smarter than enlisted folk, which I never believed for a second. It's a little bit more complicated than that. From my experience in the Navy, a vast majority of the enlisted people I have met were extremely intelligent and resourceful human beings. Many of them simply didn't have the same life circumstances or opportunities that some punk admiral's legacy child had to commission as an officer. Whether they couldn't afford college, whether they're a foreign national, many enlisted people have bachelor's degrees, if not (believe it or not) graduate degrees!

I am going on a bit of a tangent here, but you can see how institutionalized discrimination can be extremely annoying to deal with, especially if you're "one of the smarter ones". The important thing we have to think about in these situations is what the intent of the person is who commits the offense. Most of the time, they are blissfully unaware and ignorant that what they're doing is offensive. In most cases, you can take these people aside and discuss with them in private why you don't like being talked to or treated like that. Offer them alternatives to how you would like to be treated instead. All of it could be a simple misunderstanding caused by previous misconceptions and ignorance. If, however, you talk to these individuals, and continue to target you because it triggers you, that's a problem. You gave them a chance, and now, this kind of behavior should be brought to the attention of the higher-ups.

That said, this goes hand in hand with the workplace apathy post that I did recently as well. If you don't care enough to stand up and advocate for yourself, whether you like to admit it or not, you are also part of the problem. You're allowing the systemic discrimination to continue in your institution or workplace, even if it makes you upset or uncomfortable. And I get it. It takes a lot of courage to stand up to the abuse, but sometimes at the end of the day, the change has to start with you. Think about that before you try to rationalize unacceptable behavior, or sweep it under the rug. If not for other people, then at least consider stepping up for the sake of your own mental health and wellbeing.

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