I never really thought much of the term ‘ableism’ before and felt like it was people being offended for the sake of being offended but I have recently experienced this first hand. While I’m not seriously offended by what was said to me, I was left feeling frustrated and annoyed and I can see why ableism can easily become a serious problem.
The backstory – As I currently claim ESA from the council due to being currently unable to work because of the current complications I am experiencing from autism and ADHD, once a month I have to get a note from the GP and attend a meeting at my local job centre. I have to do this until the outcome of my recent capability assessment and then the situation will change somewhat. As I was unsure of what would happen I asked about the long term plan and what would happen if I was found to be not capable of work due to disability. After a short discussion then came one of the phrases I never want to hear again.
”I would think an intelligent person like yourself would want to work again”
Whoah, hold up a minute. Did you just assume that because I can string a coherent amount of sentences together and I know some big words that it automatically means I am physically capable of being able to work? After spending a total of maybe an hour with me over the course of 4 appointments (in which one of them I was suffering with selective mutism) did you just judge that I am capable of going back to work? Are you telling me that my desire to work again trumps whether or not I’m actually capable of doing so?
My mind raced and I freaked out. Yes, I’m an intelligent person (unfortunately, I’m not a modest person) and I can hold conversations, I can speak about certain subjects for hours in end and I’m great in a quiz team. But what has any of that got to do with being capable of doing any kind of employment? For the past four months I’ve struggled to get dressed and brush my teeth most days, my showering regime is sporadic at best and you don’t even want to see the state my house is in currently. Is that someone who would be able to get up, dressed, cleaned, out on a uniform and smile all day? Not really.
As much as I wouldn’t want people to underestimate my abilities I also don’t want anyone to overestimate my capabilities. My priority at the moment is to get my health to a stable point were I can actually live as normal a day as possible without some form of meltdown, executive dysfunction episode or being overwhelmed just being in my own home. I am fully aware that getting to a point of possibly being employed is not going to be for some time yet and then when I do get to that point what sort of employment am I actually going to be able to do?
I have looked at jobs in the area I live in and everything is working in shops or factories, pretty much the opposite of what I need and may be capable of doing. There isn’t an employment goal for me to work towards at the moment.
If it is deemed that I am able to work, or am categorised as being able to work part time, I actually don’t know what I am going to do. Who is going to employ someone who needs limited interaction with people, needs to wear headphones to block out noise, needs to wear sunglasses to block out fluorescent lighting, can’t do eye contact, has a terrible short term memory, can’t concentrate or finish a task and has no experience apart from retail and bar work? Oh yeah, and may just have a meltdown for no reason at any given time or may not even be able to make it in for a shift. It’s going to be a big ask of any possible employment. Or I just work in retail again and be miserable, depressed, have panic attacks and severe anxiety for the rest of my life. Doesn’t seem like much of a choice for me. For now, I’ll try and keep the panic of the future to a minimum and hope it doesn’t come to the worst case scenario.
But I never want anyone to judge me and what I’m able to do based on a handful of conversations. And I never want to hear any kind of ableist terms again. It was a horrible conversation that I never want to experience again.