Demystifying Disability | Emily Ladau

Summary of: Demystifying Disability: What to Know, What to Say, and How to Be an Ally
By: Emily Ladau


Embark on an illuminating journey to understand and support disabled people in ‘Demystifying Disability: What to Know, What to Say, and How to Be an Ally’ by Emily Ladau. This insightful guide offers a comprehensive look at the history and current state of civil rights advocacy for disabled people, while challenging harmful stereotypes and ableism. Expect to learn about the nuanced definitions and categories of disability, as well as person-first and identity-first language. Enhance your understanding with Ladau’s do’s and don’ts of disability etiquette and explore the concept of accessibility, ultimately gaining a clear vision of how to be an ally for disabled individuals.

Understanding and Supporting Disabled People

In her book, disability rights activist Emily Ladau offers an accessible guide on how nondisabled individuals can support and comprehend disabled people. She examines the history of disabled civil rights advocacy, challenges harmful stereotypes and ableism, and guides readers on the dos and don’ts of disability etiquette. Ladau highlights that changing the world takes persistence and courage, and urges society to adapt to disabled people instead of expecting them to conform. This book is a must-read for those seeking to enhance their understanding and empathy towards individuals with disabilities.

Rethinking Disability Language

The Americans with Disabilities Act limits the definition of disability as an impairment that limits “major life activities.” This view fails to recognize disability as a natural part of human life. Ladau suggests using either person-first language (PFL) or identity-first language (IFL) when addressing disability. Euphemisms for disability, such as “differently abled” or “handi-capable,” often miss the mark. In reality, these terms avoid the truth and mask the meaning of “disability” itself.

Discrimination and Disability

In her book, Ladau examines the intersection of disability and race and acknowledges that those with white skin experience less discrimination than those who are Black or marginalized. Ladau lists categories of disabilities, including chronic illness, developmental disabilities, learning and intellectual disabilities, mental health and neurological disabilities, and those affecting mobility or vision. It’s important to note that disability is subjective and can be perceived as an identity to some but not to others. Ladau also discusses that some disabilities are obvious while others go unnoticed, and emphasizes that both are equally valid.

The Tragic History and Promising Future of Disability Rights

Ladau’s book highlights how early 20th century America saw disabled people as subhuman. The Social Security Act of 1935 provided vocational rehab and support for “crippled” children, but did not protect against wage discrimination. The book describes the painful oppression of the disabled community’s struggles for civil rights, followed by hard-won victories. The 21st century saw the emergence of disability movements, including the Independent Living and Disability Justice movements that fight for marginalized groups. The book argues that disability provisions need to expand to include all groups, including under-housed populations and marginalized people in prisons.

Access for All

In her book, the author highlights how ableism can go unnoticed and reveals that accessibility is vital for the disabled community to move freely. It includes various accommodations such as quiet rooms for overstimulation, braille materials, flexible work hours, captioning, and seating areas. The author emphasizes that providing accessibility means receiving equal treatment as everyone else.

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