We need to talk about ableism (featuring Rosie Jones)

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Rosie Jones is a comedian, actor and writer who has cerebral palsy. Her condition affects her ability to move and her speech. She is incredibly witty and uses her platform to advocate for disability and LGBTQ+ awareness and rights.

In October 2021, Rosie made her second appearance on the political talk show, Question Time, wherein politicians and prominent figures discuss topical issues in front of a studio audience.

Rosie engaged with eloquent, passionate answers across a range of topics. She gave insight into thoughts and opinions that resonated more with those of the typical viewer. The one that stood out the most was her statement about not feeling safe on the street as a disabled woman.

“As a woman, but also a disabled woman, I don’t feel safe at night. I don’t feel safe with police officers. We need to get to a place where women, but also any minority: if you are a woman, if you’re disabled, if you’re in the LGBT spectrum and if you’re a person of colour (sic). The fact is right now in the UK, they don’t feel safe at home at night and that is a scary place to live in.”

Rosie Jones, BBC Question Time 2021

However, despite her enlightening contribution about woman’s safety, Rosie was subjected to ableist abuse online after the episode aired. Rosie took to Twitter later that evening to address the situation:

Rosie Jones on Twitter on 8 October 2021 said: "The sad thing is that I'm not surprised at the ableist abuse I've received tonight regarding my appearance on Question Time. It's indicative of the country we live in right now. I will keep on speaking up, in my wonderful voice, for what I believe in."

So, what is ableism, and how did we get to this point?

In its simplest form, ableism is an act of discrimination in favour of non-disabled people. It is a reflection of the attitudes of those who see those with disabilities as ‘other’. The incident with Rosie Jones is not an isolated one. However, it serves as an excellent microcosm to see a vast array of attitudes towards disability displayed on the internet.

We’ve made significant progress in the UK since the Disability Act was passed in 1995, giving those with disabilities the rights to work and have an education (later seceded by the Equality Act 2010). We’ve gotten better public access and we can pursue careers and receive education in mainstream schools. However, we still have far to go, and this is evident in the undercurrent of ableist attitudes displayed after Rosie’s appearance on Question Time.

Attitudes, it’s safe to say, are slower to change. While there was an outpour of love and support for Rosie to push back any negative comments, it’s led me to think about why such opinions exist about the disabled community.

I’m convinced it’s down to a lack of education. No one talks about disability unless they are disabled or know someone who is. It’s one of the least talked about minorities, and I believe it’s because it makes people uncomfortable. The greater public doesn’t want to acknowledge that those with disabilities get treated so poorly because if they did, they’d have to recognise that we’re people, with thoughts and feelings, and not just poorly projected stereotypes and benefit scroungers.

To admit fault in attitudes is to realise there is a flaw in a system that currently unfairly benefits the non-disabled.

So, where do we go from here?

Education and visibility is the short answer.

In my opinion, it shouldn’t be just up to the disabled community to raise disability awareness. The sooner we become aware of disability as an issue, the sooner people realise it’s not an issue at all. Education preaches that being different is okay, but aside from the odd off-handed comment about wheelchair users in school, there doesn’t seem to be much push towards proper awareness and acceptance.

I’m not saying a whole subject needs to be created to accommodate, but a few dedicated lessons during PSHE or General Studies centred around disabilities, awareness, attitudes and advocacy, wouldn’t go amiss.

Then we have the issue of visibility. Though Rosie faced backlash for her appearance on Question Time, she is doing the right thing. She’s using her platform to advocate and educate, and she’s hitting back at those who would criticise her:

@PackedLunchC4 tweeted: "'It's made me more determined to get out there, be myself and speak for people like me'. @JosieRones tells @StephLunch about why she decided to appear on @BBCQuestionTime and how she felt about the subsequent trolling she received #BBCQT #StephsPackedLunch @Channel4"

We don’t just need representation in the media, though, but throughout everyday life. For example, there needs to be a more significant push to see those with all types of disabilities in the workplace, from desk jobs to manual labour. Those with disabilities, whether physical or neurodiverse, shouldn’t be excluded from the work environment. As long as people can work to the requirements of a job, they should be included.

Like any form of discrimination, ableism must be fought against, but it’s tough doing it alone. That’s why we need as many people as possible to join the push to end disability discrimination. We need to recognise that looking after our most vulnerable people ensures that we look after ourselves in the future. We all get sick; we all age. The sooner we understand that, the sooner we can start to break down attitudes and the barriers they cause.

That’s why allyship and advocacy are essential when we’re fighting ableism. As impactful as it is to have those with disabilities take a stand for themselves, it’s also crucial that those who are not disabled take part in the movement. It can be as simple as talking to disabled people to learn about their experience or speaking up in a situation where a disabled person may feel vulnerable or unsafe.

When it comes to fighting ableism, it takes everyone, not just those of us that have lived experience. We all need to act and advocate on behalf of disabilities and neurodiverse people.

How is Bua working to tackle ableism?

Bua was founded to increase disabled and neurodiverse employment and inclusion. Bua offers disability and neurodiversity inclusion and accessibility services for organisations seeking to change. Get in touch to book yours.

About the Author

Lauren is a freelance writer from Falmouth. After graduating from university, she took a keen interest in writing about disability, so her story and others like it could be told with passion and conviction.

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