My Journey to Understand and Fight Against Unfair Treatment of People with Disabilities


My journey to earning a B.S. in Sociology and gaining an education in social justice has been nothing short of enlightening, in both positive and negative ways. As I enter my final semester before graduation, I find myself looking back on my postsecondary education as a mixed blessing.

When I first enrolled in the sociology program, I was somewhat prepared for what to expect (I am what is termed a late bloomer – I didn’t declare my major until I had entered my sophomore year in college); I expected to study an array of social issues and theoretical ways to bring justice to a world in such a desperate need of it. However, I did not foresee the overwhelming nature of some of these issues that I would come to face in my everyday life.

I knew that social problems would face me in my career and life in the world at large after graduation, but I came to the conclusion very early on after declaring my college major as an undergraduate that I would not be able to defer experiences of social injustice and discrimination for long at all; in fact, I found that I had been dealing with their presence for much of my life (even before college), I just wasn’t aware of it.

Even as I was studying and reporting on a variety of society’s social problems, such as poverty, inequality, and discrimination, I found that many social justice issues were becoming evident to me outside of the classroom as well. The nature of these social issues seems particularly insidious to this day, because they represent a form of prejudice that is not as widely regarded as others.

This specifically personally relevant social problem is ableism – the prejudice and discrimination against people with disabilities – and it results in severe oppression of this population. Unfortunately, the effects of this oppression are far-reaching and often promoted systemically and socially.

It serves to both undervalue and complicate the lived experiences of individuals with disabilities, often disregarding or downplaying their potential to offer meaningful contributions to society. One of the ways in which people better themselves and expand on what they have to offer the world as unique individuals is through higher postsecondary education.

As a student with disabilities, I have sought out this pathto better myself through advanced education. Knowing that I wanted to help people as a general rule, I set out to make sense of the social world by investigating sociology as a social science major. I did not yet ascertain what population I wanted to work with and found myself without a specific cause to champion, so I found myself at a pivotal period in which I was left to question my abilities relentlessly.

This period of self-doubt was prolonged by the onset of the pandemic and the relatively consistent environment characterized by isolation. This sense of loneliness continued in an atypical fashion that did not end in the recovery period of a post-pandemic world. Such is often the case for students with disabilities. Not only may they be denied the social benefits of college life, they are frequently burdened with the task of adapting to an ableist environment, one where their mistreatment is allowed to continue far past what is acceptable.

While universities and institutions of higher education have indeed come a long way in terms of their treatment of people with disabilities in that many do provide academic accommodations and are required to more or less comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, society still has a long way to go on the road to acceptance of diversity in physical, mental, and emotional ability.

Society now acknowledges that a disability should not deprive individuals of experiences, yet it continues to devalue the very quality of those said experiences.

In this modern country, outright and immediately obvious discriminatory actions against others may be recognized and dealt with, but much more subtle forms of oppression are overlooked. As a practical example, many businesses are required to install wheelchair ramps to facilitate accessibility to get into buildings, but the interior doors are rarely equipped to support people using assistive devices.

Elevators display signs instructing individuals to use the stairs in case of fire, but offer no instruction as to what those who do not have the physical ability to walk are supposed to do to ensure their safety. Door jams are regarded as a fire hazard for interfering with possible containment of fires, but the thought of a person with disabilities being trapped inside a burning building because they are unable to maneuver the heavy doors is not a possibility that’s accounted for.

Places are asked to provide handicapped parking to allow for the accessibility of facilities for persons with disabilities, yet these same parking areas tend to be placed in nonstrategic fashion and are so poorly maintained that weather conditions presenting mere inconvenience to the able-bodied become nearly insurmountable for people with disabilities. Only some entrances are equipped appropriately – often only main entrances are so equipped, not the side or back entrances of the buildings that may be closest to where classes and important functions are localized.

Transportation options are severely limited, if unrealistic altogether. These are just a few of the significant yet underrepresented social issues affecting differently abled communities, many of which have a distinctly archaic feel to their existence in such an advanced society.

Not only is the presence of these issues disturbingly unacceptable, it seems particularly ironic that these issues were ever-present during my academic experiences studying social justice. My experiences have taught me the difference between that which is truly social justice and what is merely performative. Good thoughts are sent many ways and they seem to abound in social justice circles, but action on the part of the world itself proves to be difficult to find. There tends to be discussion, but not always significant changes made to social systems and hierarchies based on that discussion.

Courses note ways to practice social service professions in anti-racist and anti-sexist manners, but not how to prevent acting in an anti-ableist way. Considering that as many as one in five persons have disabilities of some sort, overlooking the vast numbers of people that belong to this minority group not only doesn’t make logical mathematical sense, but is also extremely detrimental to the lives of the already-vulnerable.

Here, people with disabilities are tasked with the conflicting fact that they still can meaningfully contribute while living in a world that does not support their ability to make those contributions; moreover, this is a world that often undervalues and devalues them.

My personal experience of studying social justice in the face of very real ableism, of able-bodied privilege, and entrenched attitudes of prejudice that oppress populations, encouraging people to disadvantage others, is what has led me to fervently fight for the rights of people with disabilities. This is an area where I feel society in general could benefit from intense reform and systemic change.

The certainty that comes with knowing of one’s many purposes is something that nobody, regardless of their physical, mental, or emotional ability, should be deprived of in any measure. My undergraduate education in sociology has shown me that never has there been a time where denying the value of these individuals with disabilities was acceptable; it is no more appropriate for these injustices to prevail now. I feel that it is my moral and social responsibility to make sure that the voices of persons with disabilities are heard – it has been far too long that society has allowed them to be drowned out.

We hope you enjoyed reading this inspiring story, which is part of Social Stories, a brainchild of the Sociology Group. If you come across any impactful stories or want to share your social story, please write to us. For more details about Social Stories and how to submit a story, please read the this article.

Share on:

We believe in sharing knowledge with everyone and making a positive change in society through our work and contributions. If you are interested in joining us, please check our 'About' page for more information.