To put it simply, ableism is prejudice against people with disabilities. But Dominick Evans, a filmmaker and activist, thinks the problem is more complex than that.
That's why he started the hashtag #AbleismExists, which is being used by people with disabilities on Twitter to express their experiences with discrimination. Evans points out that everyone in the diverse community experiences ableism differently, “so you will get a million different answers” from the hashtag.
Evans, 35, has OCD and spinal muscular atrophy, a neuromuscular disability that is progressive. He has been using a wheelchair since he was 16 years old and despite what some may think, he loves it.
“To me, a wheelchair means independence. My wheelchair is my freedom,” he said. “I am proud to be disabled. It is a part of who I am, and is intricately linked with my identity.”
Evans is heavily involved in activism and decided to create #AbleismExists when he became frustrated by a few of his friends.
“One disturbing trend I have found is having friends who support LGBT, civil, women’s and other rights for marginalized communities, who were telling me that ableism does not exist,” he said. “I thought that perhaps if enough disabled people were sharing their experiences with ableism, then maybe people would begin to see how absolutely terrible we are treated by a world that often sees us as invisible.”
So on April 16, he tweeted this:
The results have been powerful, and according to Evans, many find tweeting their experiences to be cathartic. But Evans wants to achieve something different with the hashtag.
“I really want it to become something that non-disabled people can not ignore. I want them to understand the kind of experiences we have, simply because we are disabled,” he said. “We know from other movements that we see a greater change in how the world views systems of oppression when there are allies supporting the movement. I believe we need non-disabled people to have an awareness and understanding about our experiences, because many of these experiences are dehumanizing.”
Some of these degrading experiences Evans describes as daily annoyances.
“People stop me to pray over me, touch me without permission or treat me like a child,” he said.
But he says having to constantly to prove his ability to do things is more frustrating than the daily intrustions.
“Everything I’ve done in my life, from making films to raising a family, I’ve had to prove to the world I was capable of doing,” he said
Evans said this is due to a common assumption that disabled people are not capable, simply because they have disabilities, before adding:
“But, at the same time, others try to completely ignore our disabilities, and refuse to acknowledge we need accommodations, which would allow us to better integrate ourselves into society.”
Ultimately, Evans' goal for #AbleismExists is simple:
“[People with disabilities] have dreams, hopes, wishes and goals, just like everyone else. Let us have the opportunity to show the world just how diverse the disability community really is, and give us the tools we need to do so.”