Ableism From A Youth Perspective
By Abi Whiteman, guest writer, with Laurren Karr, Health Information Specialist
En Español 

Abi Whiteman (age 18) is a youth self- and family-advocate. She is an aspiring writer and high school senior with a mission to shine a light on not only blatant ableism that can exist within the public school system today, but also on the more subtle forms of ableism that impact children and youth with special healthcare needs (CYSHCN) daily. 
Abi writes:
This topic is very near to my heart, as whether or not most of us realize it, we see ableism on a daily basis. I see it most often directed toward my older brothers and my cousins. By definition, ableism describes attitudes and actions that spring from the idea that those perceived as differently abled are less than or less worthy. Throughout human history, people with disabilities have been treated poorly. Even in schools, which are supposed to be a safe place for children, students with disabilities often face bullying and ableism from peers, teachers, and other school staff. One of the biggest ways that ableism has historically impacted students is through segregated classrooms. That separative attitude has led some teachers to feel unable to handle differently abled students being in their classrooms, and it has also led to ableism within the student body. Many neurotypical students make jokes about the “special ed kids.” If there is one thing that students should not learn from school, it is how to discriminate against others; however, that is a course that many students didn’t know they were taking. Instead of learning how to discriminate and be ableist, the school system should be teaching students what ableism is and why it is so important to call it out in the first place.
Some may argue that there cannot be ableism within the school system because the special education system has improved over the years. Students can get personalized plans to help with learning, modified homework, and many other helpful accommodations. Some students, however, still spend a majority of their day in a segregated classroom. And while these students may not be as badly mistreated as they were historically, the system is still very flawed. Students with disabilities still face many hardships. The school system still favors neurotypical individuals over those seen by others as “different” in some way.
As I wrote this article, I was worried that it could sound negative or even biased; however, during the process of writing, I realized that the emotions behind my words are what give them power. My love for my family and solidarity for those in my place and with those who are differently abled inspires me to stand up and call out ableism. Kids, teens, and young adults with disabilities are not less than others or less capable. When rules are put in place without consulting people with disabilities- the very people these rules effect- these students are the ones put at a disadvantage. Not because of themselves or their abilities, but because of the often-well-meaning people who created those ableist environments and rules. To see kids with disabilities isolated because they are "too much to handle", to hear teachers tell parents to do the work that they should be doing in order for the student to be able to complete their homework, or simply just to see the daily mistreatment of students with autism and other disabilities is why I'm frustrated, but also why I feel my emotions are valid and should be heard. The meaning behind this article is extremely important to me personally, and I can’t watch quietly.
While painful to admit, there is still much work to be done in order to fix this broken system. Schools can advance the progress that’s already been made by listening to youth perspective and respecting their lived experiences. By fully including disabled students, making proper accommodations for them, and respecting their lived experiences, classrooms will absolutely be a better place for all students.

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