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#AbledsAreWeird demonstrates how not to treat people with disabilities

Shawn Campbell/Flickr

Some called the stories of discrimination shared a much-needed reality check.

Living with a disability isn’t always easy, but sometimes the greatest struggle can come from discrimination from non-disabled people, as the trending hashtag #AbledsAreWeird details. Users by the thousands have shared their experiences this week, shining a spotlight on the uncomfortable, rude, and sometimes just downright bizarre harassment people with disabilities face. Writer and advocate Imani Barbarin created the hashtag last Friday when she shared that a stranger once threw her crutch into the pool to help her learn how to swim. It quickly garnered nearly 9,000 likes as other people with disabilities began sharing their similarly frustrating experiences.

Stories on Twitter outlined how people with disabilities routinely face such invasions of privacy and consent, even if sometimes the non-disabled person at fault means well. Others allow their curiosity and lack of experience with people with disabilities to totally disregard personal boundaries. “…a woman made a beeline to me and, [with] no introduction, asked, ‘Can you have sex?'” wrote photographer Kathryne Husk, and they were hardly surprised; it wasn’t the first time a stranger asked them that.

The viral hashtag also highlighted how people with disabilities are constantly fielding health suggestions from acquaintances and strangers, as if they haven’t heard them a million times before.

Perhaps most horrific of all was how many stories mentioned such mistreatment from medical professionals and educators.

Suffice to say, the stories succeeded in making an impact. As #AbledsAreWeird started trending, several non-disabled people began spreading the word about it as a reference for others to learn how to treat (or, perhaps, not treat) people with disabilities. “We can learn to do better by listening, and this hashtag can help you start,” wrote Twitter user @surliestgirl.

Update 5:01pm CT, March 19: The creator of #AbledsAreWeird, writer and advocate Imani Barbarin, told the Daily Dot she was ecstatic her efforts could help people with disabilities feel heard. “I always say that the content I make isn’t for abled people to be comforted in their fear of disability,” Barbarin said, “but for disabled people to feel like they’re less alone.” That was the very reason she created the hashtag in the first place: to build a conversation around their shared experiences. She knew the hashtag’s wording would be particularly important in facilitating that intent. “[I]t flips societal expectations on its head,” she said, “and posits that it is not disabled people that are weird or ‘other’ but a society that constantly treats us as such and doesn’t listen to us.”

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Alyse Stanley

Alyse Stanley

Alyse Stanley is a video game and culture reporter based in Virginia with words at Polygon and USGamer. When she’s not writing about memes, she edits Unwinnable’s monthly magazine. You can follow her on Twitter @pithyalyse.