Today, as we observe International Persons with Disabilities Day, I want to share a deeply personal journey that led me to confront a harsh reality: we live in an ableist society, and it is killing us. Ableism, as aptly defined by abolitionist TL Lewis, is a system that assigns values to people’s bodies and minds based on societal constructs of normalcy, productivity, desirability, intelligence, excellence, and fitness. It took me years to fully grasp the magnitude of this pervasive issue, and I believe it’s crucial that we all acknowledge its presence in our lives.

I once prided myself on advocating for workplaces that prioritized mental health, drawing from my own experiences with depression and anxiety. However, I failed to recognize my own internalized ableism until I faced a health crisis resulting in an acquired physical disability—a spinal cord injury. In my relentless pursuit of success and validation in a toxic work environment, I compromised my health, ultimately leading to a devastating diagnosis: a tumor embedded in my spinal cord.

The journey that followed forced me to confront my own biases and preconceptions. I realized the power of internalized ableism, the silent force shaping our decisions and perceptions. It made me question how we navigate our lives, often denying the presence of invisible or physical disabilities, enforcing policies contributing to hostile work environments, and assigning value based on societal norms.

In my quest for healing and understanding, I urge each one of you to examine your relationship with disability. Ableism affects us all, whether we have a disability or not. It’s a societal problem that demands our collective attention and action. We must use the words “ableism” and “anti- ableism” in our discourse, incorporating recent movements like “rest as resistance” and “self-care.” However, we must remember that these practices alone cannot dismantle the deeply rooted systems of oppression. We need an inclusive anti-ableism movement grounded in empathy, understanding, and unity.

I implore you to join me in this transformative journey. Let’s challenge the status quo, confront our biases, and create a world where everyone is valued, regardless of their abilities. Together, we can break the chains of ableism and build a society where every individual is seen, heard, and cherished. It starts here. It starts now.

With unwavering determination,
Gizelle Clemens

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