Let’s Talk Progress
By Dr. LaMondre Pough
I am LaMondre Pough, the CEO of Billion Strong, a global identity movement by people with disabilities. I was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), a rare neurological disorder, when I was 18 months old. As a result of SMA, I am a full-time wheelchair user, and I require assistance with all my activities of daily living: feeding, bathing, dressing, toileting, things like that. I noticed that people would stare at me when I was growing up. And when kids would point at me and ask questions, typically their parents would reprimand them and say, “Don’t point at him and don’t you dare look at him.” I thought they were pointing and staring because I was also cursed with incredibly good looks. I later discovered they were pointing, staring, and asking questions because I was different, and they had never encountered someone like me.
While being well-intentioned in their pursuit to teach children not to be rude, I believe these parents created a far worse outcome. By stifling their child’s curiosity, they instantly established a taboo about people like me. They were inadvertently saying to that child there is something so wrong with people like me that they can’t acknowledge the difference, talk about the difference, or even look at that person because of the difference.
There are around 1.3 to 1.6 billion people on this planet with some form of disability. In the US, one in four adults has some type of disability. And these numbers, while they’re huge, are grossly underreported because many refuse to identify as having a disability. Why? Usually, it’s because of the stigma associated with being labeled as disabled. This stigma is rooted in ableism.
According to Access Living, ableism is discrimination and social prejudice against people with disabilities based on the belief that typical abilities are superior. At its heart, ableism is rooted in the assumption that disabled people require ‘fixing.’ Ableism defines people by their disability. Like racism and sexism, ableism classifies entire groups of people as ‘less than’ and includes harmful stereotypes, misconceptions, and generalizations of people with disabilities.
I am a diversity, equity, and inclusion practitioner who understands that there must be real conversations about our differences to create a more equitable and inclusive world. To pretend that we are all the same, or to ignore our unique characteristics, is to suppress innovation and, ultimately, progress.
As a Black man raised in the South with a disability, I have been both covertly and overtly asked to suppress certain portions of my identity and assimilate if I want to get ahead. I cannot leave any part of who I am at home. The truth is that when I show up, all of me shows up. All my experiences shape my perspectives, and it brings tremendous value. We should never be asked to leave who we are at home to get ahead in life or make others comfortable. We must have open dialogue grounded in truth to foster an understanding that progresses within this human experience.
It is our differences that make us stronger.
Ableism 101: What it is, what it looks like, and what we can do to to fix it by Ashley Eisenmenger