In the immortal words of Monty Python, nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition. Least of all, I might add, disabled people sharing their experiences of ableism and inaccessibility online.
In the age of social media, it’s easier now than ever before for disabled people to share how their life is impacted by their disability, raising awareness of the challenges we face and educating others on how to be a good ally. Some try to argue that this practice achieves nothing, but in the past few weeks alone I’ve seen at least two major corporations held to account over ableist language and inaccessibility, both of whom are in the process of rectifying the issues highlighted by disabled people on social media. At the time of publication a recent Facebook post is fast approaching 1 million views, and while there are a few hundred comments making out that I’m a fragile snowflake for merely pointing out the prevalence of inaccessibility, there are over fifteen times that many who think I have a point. If nothing else, that’s a lot of people who can no longer claim ignorance. It won’t solve every issue we currently face, but it still has an impact.
Unfortunately, I have also noticed that in among the supportive comments are those asking lots of questions. I usually encourage curiosity as a lot of ableism at least partially stems from ignorance, but these are not helpful questions that promote education. These questions are accusatory.
For example, I recently posted a video talking about an issue pertaining to bathroom access at work; in short, the only accessible bathroom in the vicinity was being used inappropriately and when this was pointed out, the response I received was defensive and frankly, rude. The comments were full of people disgusted at the ableist behaviour I had encountered, but in among the support were two types of unhelpful and accusatory questions.
The first type of question tried to make out that I hadn’t done the obvious – knock on the bathroom door – and thus the situation was of my own making (or I wasn’t intelligent enough to have realised that was an option). In truth, the reason I hadn’t knocked on the door was because there wasn’t room for me to knock without then blocking the outward-opening door, and I would have difficulty reversing out of the way in time.
The second type of question tried to accuse me of not knowing the full details of a situation which I had been in; I was asked how I knew the bathroom wasn’t being used as a bathroom. In response I pointed out that, being able to hear a telephone conversation through the wall I would also have heard the toilet flush. Even if they had initially gone in to use the bathroom and flushed the toilet before I got there, they should have left when they were finished using it as a bathroom.
Both types of question are at best unhelpful, and at worst downright rude. I would expect to give that level of detail if I was being questioned in court, not making a three-minute TikTok video.
Unfortunately, I’ve noticed these types of question popping up on the posts of lots of disabled people. When disabled people share stories of mobility aids being damaged by airport staff, or videos of them having to be hauled over inaccessible barriers that shouldn’t even be there, demanding they provide explanations of why they didn’t take an obvious option (that they probably did take but didn’t mention), or questioning how we knew something ableist was actually ableist, is not helpful. It simply places a further burden on disabled people, and other margnialised groups are subjected to similar treatment, to explain their every action, and forces us to consider whether speaking up is worth it.
So, the next time you feel the urge to take on the role of the titular inquisitors, first ask yourself a few questions as to whether or not you want to be perceived as a bit of a bigot.