If someone asked me to talk about all of the things I don’t like about Donald Trump, it would be easy. I could spend ages talking about all of his negative traits. He’s a horrible person. I despise him. He’s misogynistic. Ableist. Racist. Transphobic. Homophobic. Sexist. Islamophobic. Ignorant. Xenophobic. The list goes on. And on… and on.
Today, I was scrolling through Twitter, and decided to browse the Trending Topics. #rampgate was top trending topic. I clicked it. To be met with a barrage of ableism.
Now, before we go any further, you may not have even heard the term ableism. As I’m typing this post, my laptop is underlining the word with a red squiggly line. It’s not a word, my laptop is trying to tell me. But it is.
Ableism is prejudice and discrimination towards disabled people. There’s a lot more to it than that, as there is with any form of prejudice and discrimination, but that’s it in a nut shell.
It’s acknowledged so little, though, that I only heard the term myself maybe 4 or 5 years ago. And that was through seeing it on social media. Even as someone who’d definitely been on the receiving end of ableism, I didn’t know there was a word for it. And that’s because it’s so normalised in society, so accepted, that why would there be a word for it? Of course disabled people are going to be treated differently. Of course people are going to make negative judgements about them. Even if it’s not straight up mockery, people see disability as a negative thing. Something to pity. Something brave (yes, this is a negative view to have on disabled people). Something inspirational (yes, believe it or not, this is negative too). But that’s just how it is, right? Yeah, that is how it is. But it’s not how it should be.
I’ve got a lot more to say about ableism in general – pity parties, inspiration porn, you name it. But this post itself is about something specific I saw today, so I’m gonna stay on track. I’ll delve into further detail regarding ableism in another post at a later date. But for now, back to #rampgate.
It turned out that this hashtag at the top of the trending topics page had something to do with Donald Trump. I saw his face at the top of the page and instantly thought to myself “ugh, what’s that arsehole done now?”. He’s probably said something racist, or sexist, or ableist, or just outright ridiculous, I thought to myself. Or maybe even all of the above in one go. As it turns out, he was actually trending because… well, he’d walked down a ramp. Yep. That was it. He’d walked down a ramp. That’s what triggered hundreds of thousands of people to click ‘send tweet’ with the hashtag #rampgate attached. You may be wondering why someone walking down a ramp had caused such a furore. Well, Donald Trump had finished a press conference, then had to walk down a ramp to leave the stage. It was steep, with no handrail, so he took his time so that he didn’t fall. Apparently his slow walk was the perfect thing to mock!
Out of all the things to talk about, people chose his physical ability. I saw the way he walked down the ramp described as ‘unstable’, ‘fragile’, ‘scared’, ‘unfit for office’, amongst thousands more.
Soon after, there were more hashtags. This time, they weren’t even trying to disguise their ableism. #TrumpIsNotWell. #TrumpWearsAdultDiapers. I was upset and angry, but not surprised.
#TrumpIsNotWell being a supposedly ‘funny’ hashtag? How? Where’s the joke? Where’s the punchline? Since when has illness been synonymous with funny? Fun fact: it’s not.
#TrumpWearsAdultDiapers. Well, he most likely doesn’t, because there’s absolutely no evidence to back that up. But, let’s say he did, just for argument’s sake. So what? Why is that funny? Ah, incontinence, yes, hilarious. I know people who have disabilities which mean they can’t always control their bladder or bowels. I’ve had incidents in the past where I haven’t been able to control my bladder or bowels, because my disability means that everything is weak. Yes, I’m saying I’ve pissed myself as an adult. And the rest. And that’s fine. I cleaned up, sorted myself out, and was the same person I was beforehand. This awful hashtag was thought of by someone after they saw the clip of Donald Trump walking slowly down the ramp, which means the direct implication is that someone who struggles with walking also shits themselves. Or pisses themselves. Or both. I mean, that might be the case for some people, which is absolutely fine. But it’s not a joke. And it’s most certainly not the case that all people who have a physical disability have incontinence issues. Oh, and calling them ‘diapers’ is insulting. If you’re gonna talk about adult incontinence, it’s an incontinence pad. But that’s beyond my point.
I wasn’t surprised that some of the people I saw mocking Donald Trump’s slow walk down the ramp were the people I see often considering themselves to be lefties, progressives, liberals, ‘woke’, inclusive, accepting of all, pro-diversity – my kind of people! Obviously, one of the reasons I wasn’t surprised was because of course these are the kinds of people who don’t like Trump. But the main reason I wasn’t surprised was because disability is so often forgotten about when it comes to talk of diversity. Because people think that -isms have to be in your face. That if you’re not being as glaringly obviously ableist as calling someone a cripple, then you’re not being ableist at all. But ableism presents itself in a number of ways. Again, I’ll get into the ins and outs of ableism another time, but for now, back to the point in hand.
Do you know how hurtful that is for disabled people to see? To find out that ableism is so normalised in society? To see that so many people deem it perfectly acceptable to mock the way someone walks? To see that people equate struggling to walk down a ramp with not being fit for their job?
God, if my ability to carry out a job was judged by how I walk down a ramp, I’d be unemployed for the rest of my life. I’m disabled. I can’t walk down things with a steep decline without holding on to someone or something. If I did have to, it’d take me ages. I’d have to really concentrate on keeping my balance, and my right knee in particular would hurt like fuck. I know for a fact that there’ll be people reading this thinking “well I’d never mock you for that, it’s different, you’re not a bad person like Donald Trump! He deserves it!”. But it’s no different. He deserves to be called out for all of the awful things he says and does. But when you portray struggling to walk as a negative thing, as the punchline of your joke, what you’re actually doing is insulting everyone who also experiences that thing.
If someone is a vile person, like Donald Trump is, point that out. Point out his negative traits. Point out how his hatred for anyone who doesn’t agree with his bigoted views makes him a despicable person. But do not act like him walking down a ramp slowly is a bad thing. Because all that does is perpetuate the idea that physical ability is an inherently negative thing, something to be mocked.
It’s not the first time I’ve seen ableism wrapped up in a disguise of Trump-hatred. He’s been seen drinking a glass of water and using two hands to do so. Something I do. Something many disabled people do. Again, your mockery of Donald Trump holding a glass with two hands to bring a drink to his lips doesn’t hurt him. He won’t see your #SippyCupTrump joke about him on social media. I will. Lots of other people will. And it’s hurtful. I often sit on Skype calls for work and see myself on camera putting a drink to my mouth with two hands. It’s never crossed my mind that anyone would think anything of it. That it’s something that could be mocked. That people think a good way to mock someone is to try to infantilise them, by suggesting that they need a ‘sippy cup’. Here’s a fun fact for you: using an adaptive aid isn’t infantilising at all. Lots of disabled adults use a cup with handles. Or a plastic cup. Or a bottle. Or a straw. Or two hands. Or whatever else they want or need to use. And that is fine. People needing to stay hydrated isn’t the punchline of a joke.
Luckily, I’ve got past my hatred for my disability. The shame I carried for years as a teenager. The way I cropped my disabled hands out of photos because I didn’t want people to point out that they look different. Cropping photos of myself as a little kid before I uploaded them onto my ‘Back in the Day!’ photo album on Facebook, ensuring that my knee pads and splints weren’t visible. Absolutely not uploading any photos of me learning to walk with my walking frame. The times I tried to keep up with my friends who didn’t know I was disabled. Forcing myself up staircases because I didn’t want to admit that actually, I needed to use the lift. Because I saw it as a sign of weakness. Something to be embarrassed of. Ashamed of. Something that would make me different. And I didn’t want to be. I just wanted to be me. Poppy. A ‘normal’ teenager who liked normal teenage stuff – sitting in the park talking about boys I fancied, trying to learn how to smoke but failing miserably because I didn’t want to inhale, attempting smokey eyeshadow and looking like I’d done 10 rounds with Mike Tyson, getting pissed in the park on a £4 bottle of Glen’s. You know, the usual. My disability wouldn’t change my ability to do any of those things. My friends wouldn’t think anything of it. But I kept it hidden when I could, because of this shame I felt. The judgement that I felt people would feel towards me. Whether that be pity, mockery, sympathy, or insults. I didn’t want any of it. Because it wasn’t important to me. It didn’t change who I was. My thoughts. My feelings. My views.
As I got older, I became much more comfortable with my disability. I accepted that I needed to use a wheelchair sometimes, and started talking about it openly. I know now that being disabled is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s not a bad thing. It’s not something that people should mock.
Yet, here we are, in 2020. And people are mocking one of the most famous people in the world for how they walk. But it doesn’t just mock him. It mocks disabled people in general. How do you think that makes disabled people feel? Disabled children who are worried about being bullied because they look a bit slow and wobbly when they walk down a ramp. Disabled teenagers who are not only navigating all of the peculiarities that come with puberty and hormone changes, but also juggling that with being disabled and wanting to fit in. Newly disabled adults, who are still coming to terms with the fact that their bodies may not work how they once did. Disabled people who are conscious of what others think about how they look when they do certain things.
Disabled people want to live life without judgement from others. Disabled people want to be judged on their individual merits, their values, their thoughts, just like anyone does. Not judged on how well they can balance, get down a ramp, or hold a cup to their mouth.
So, next time you see Donald Trump being mocked for how he walks, how he holds a cup, anything else relating to his physical ability, don’t join in. Call people out on it. Don’t be that person. Because to you, it’s just a joke. He won’t see it, so it’s fine. But to people like me and many other disabled people out there, it’s not a joke. It’s our lives. It’s who we are and we can’t change that.
Donald Trump is an absolute arsehole. Talk about that. Talk about how he’s currently trying to take away the rights of transgender citizens. Sign this petition to stand up to his bigotry. Don’t bring physical ability into it. You can do better than that.
I hope you enjoyed reading this, and perhaps even learnt from it. It’s okay to admit that you may not have thought about the things I’ve written about from this perspective before. Perhaps you thought that as long as it was Trump you were mocking, it didn’t really matter what the joke was about. Maybe you didn’t really know about ableism. Maybe you were one of the people who mocked his physical ability and have realised why that’s wrong after reading this. I really hope so.
If you did enjoy reading this, please do share it far and wide. Share it on Twitter, post about it on Instagram, Facebook. Share it with your friends and family. Let me know your thoughts in the comment box below, or drop me an Instagram message/tweet/comment.
Stay safe, wash your hands, don’t be ableist, and fuck Trump.
Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash