For quite a while now, I’ve been wanting to speak out about my experience as an 18-year-old living with a disability, and the challenges that I have faced as I navigate an ableist world. 

CONTENT WARNING: Personal experiences of ableism, discrimination and mental overload.

Everything I say here is my personal experience and opinions. Other people within the disability community may have different opinions and that is why it is always best to ask the individual person for their personal preferences.

Before I start this, I want to let everyone know that I am ok. I haven’t written this to seek people’s pity, or to deceive people into thinking that I live a debilitating life, just because of the fact that I have a disability. Even though it is deeply frustrating that I still have to face the repercussions of ableism on a daily basis and it has led me to write this, I still live an amazing life and I am grateful for that.

It can be difficult for people to treat me normally. 

This is a choice that people often make when they have an opportunity to interact with me. It often isn’t deliberate and is mostly a people make this choice with the best of intentions. But, at the end of the day, regardless of the person’s intentions – it is still a choice and that choice is ableism.

I will not sugarcoat it. It is a shit thing that I have to face on a daily basis and I wish that it wasn’t my reality.

Every day since the day I was born, I have had to deal with those choices that people make which directly affect me in every aspect of my life. Because of my disability, there are parts of me that make me different from what many people consider normal.

My disability, cerebral palsy (CP), affects my mobility, which means that I often need to use my wheelchair to move around safely and quickly. Furthermore, it impairs my speech which means it can be difficult for others to understand what I have to say. And because these differences are visible, it can be easy for people to make assumptions.

This affects the way some people interact with me.

Conversations with me can require a bit more patience from people as it takes time for them to get used to my impaired speech. I think the fear of not being able to understand me, and maybe their unconscious biases, has gotten the better of some people. It has stopped them from having a normal conversation with me or stopped them from even trying to initiate a conversation at all. 

Because this subtle form of ableism has been a reality for me for my whole life, I have often been thrown into situations where I have been made to feel unworthy of getting the same treatment that most others take for granted. I feel like I sometimes should have to thank someone for just wanting to have a proper conversation with me.

Every time someone reaches out to me of their own accord, I feel obliged to do a substantial happy dance around the house. Whenever someone opts to spend time with me, it is like I have just won the jackpot in Tattslotto. 

Those who choose to take the time to get to know me (and if you are one of those people, you’ll know who you are and I see you and I salute you) will learn that I am just a normal 18-year-old. One who loves to go hard on the dance floor at live music events, enlightens others with his witty sense of humour; whether that be bombarding people with silly memes or jokes – and I take firm pride in having a winning taste in music (although others may tend to disagree).

Most importantly, I believe that I am a kind and caring soul who will be there for anyone when they need it. I hope that all my existing friends and family know this and they are always welcome to take me up on that offer.

Yet, people often make the choice to not take the time and effort to see past my disability and get to explore the other amazing aspects of my personality.

Ableism is a devastating reality that so many people with disabilities have to face every day. However, I strongly believe as a society, we have the potential to change the world. It doesn’t have to be like this.

So I am asking you, whether you’re a family member, a friend, an acquaintance, someone whom I cross paths with at any point in my life, or someone that I don’t know, find everything within yourself to challenge that bias. Even if you believe that you have done so already, there is always more you can do to test your beliefs to their absolute limits.

I want to see more people without disabilities becoming allies for the disability community: 
  • Call out ableism when you see it – no matter who is doing it or how minor it is, it is never OK. 
  • Have conversations with your family, your friends and other members of your community, educate them about ableism and about how to comfortably approach interactions with people with disabilities in all parts of daily life. 

I want to see disability being normalised EVERYWHERE; on TV shows, in movies, advertisements, dating sites, in schools, parliament – in every aspect of life.

I want to see disability education being a compulsory part of the curriculum so young people can be equipped with the adequate knowledge to comfortably approach an interaction with a person with a disability, as soon as they need to.

But most importantly, I am asking you to take any opportunity that is given to you to interact with a person with a disability. If that interaction creates an opportunity for you to get to know them further: befriend them, date them, employ them, cast them, or grant them any other opportunity that everyone is entitled to. Please do it because not only are going to enrich the lives of others, your life is going to be so much better for it. 

Today, I decided to open up about my experience of ableism with the outside world.

It was undeniably one of the most difficult decisions that I have ever made, but I believe that it was a necessary one to be part of the push to bring change within our community. 

Please keep my words at the forefront of your mind whenever you are given an opportunity to make a decision that affects me or other people with a disability. Not only does my life and the lives of many others in the community count on you making that choice, your life will be so much better for doing so. People with disabilities are worthy and are deserving of any opportunity that every human is entitled to in life.

Thank you to everyone who took the time to read this and for joining me on this journey. You are more than welcome to share this. If you have any questions or need a safe place to talk – my DMs are always open to ANYONE.

By Satria Arbai, age 18.