Digital Tip Jar: Open Venmo
Social Media: Instagram
Have you ever thought “Oh, I have ______ but I’m not disabled”? Or, “Well, I’m not that disabled”?
Thoughts like these are perfect examples of the ableist concept of the disability hierarchy.
The disability hierarchy is the notion that certain disabilities are more socially acceptable and/or more “normal” (meaning that someone is more likely to “pass” as non-disabled). It’s the reason why companies with more inclusive branding may have models who use wheelchairs, but rarely have models with ostomy bags or ventilators. Or why some neurodiverse folx are welcomed by neurotypical people as “quirky and fun,” while other neurodiverse folx are isolated and bullied.
But this structure of who is “more” or “less” disabled is judgemental and wrong. Every disabled person is unique, and the same disability will present in various ways among different people. As writer s.e. smith points out, "[R]anking the severity of experiences serves no one other than the people perpetrating disablism, and that includes the disablism from inside the house. When those with nonevident disabilities say getting access is ‘easier’ when you have an evident disability that gatekeepers can comprehend, that’s both untrue and disablism. When those with evident disabilities claim that ‘passing’ allows people to access certain privileges, it does, but at what cost?”
A prevalent example of this is with disabled parking spots. Everyone always looks to see if whoever gets out of the car “deserves” that spot – aka are they a wheelchair user? If a person gets out and walks into the store? Oh no. They’re judged as not disabled “enough” or accused outright of “faking”. Never mind the fact that once the person enters the store, they may use a motorized cart because while they can walk short distances, walking around a store fatigues them.
Claiming that someone is “more” disabled or that some disabilities are “more valid” than others creates a harsh and dangerous practice of separating and “othering”. It divides us within the disability community, turning us on each other rather than creating an inclusive and supportive community. If different disabled groups are fighting with each other over who is “valid” and “deserving” of the disability identity, then we are distracted from tackling the real problems of disability justice.
We all need to do our part to dismantle the disability hierarchy. Point it out in conversations. Do some introspection on any internalized ableism you’re grappling with. Push for real representation in the media of all disabled people, not just those who threaten the ableist worldview the least. Destigmatizing disability and achieving disability justice can only be fully achieved after the disability hierarchy has been discarded.
P.S. Come back soon for part two where I explore how the disability hierarchy perpetuates our own internalized ableism as well!
Source:smith, s.e. "Disability Status Shouldn’t Have a Hierarchy." Catapult, 13 Apr. 2022, catapult.co/stories/se-smith-an-unquiet-mind-disability-status-shouldnt-have-a-hierarchy.