Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Ageism and Disability Discrimination

Ageism is basically discriminating against someone because of their age.
The most common way ageism is described is as discrimination against old people. This overlaps with disability discrimination because old people are frequently disabled, the ordinary age-related skill loss is treated as disabilities, and so on. Old people are the age group where disability is normal (and I use normal in a statistical sense). And the same sort of stuff with institutions and viewing them as a burden and so forth occurs. I've heard some people say they'd like to die of a heart attack in late-middle age so they don't lose their "dignity".
But another, less described, form of ageism exists. This one is, in my opinion, more pervasive. That's why it's less described, it's just taken for granted. What I'm talking about is discrimination against children.
This overlaps with disability in a different way. Children are less able than adults, have less power, are less listened to. They are dependent on being looked after. That matches a stereotypical view of disabled adults as well as the reality of many disabled adults.
Often disabled adults complain about being treated like children. The sing-songy voice and patronising manner, the casual dismissal of what they say. A few of them recognise how many children resent this treatment as well.
The sing-songy voice is appreciated by very young children, still figuring out language. Babies like that style of speech, and scientists have dubbed it "parentese". But many older children who are talked to that way resent it.
Patronising is when you are confident you know much more than them, so why bother actually listening? Adults in general do know more than children. However, that is not a good reason to dismiss their views, for because kids think differently, they have different isights, and more importantly, kids want to be listened to.
And kids notice things. When I was eleven or so, I was lugging a big heavy tuba with no case while we ran for the bus. My brother, then about 3 or so, was the only who noticed the tuba's mouthpiece fall off. He tried to tell us something had fallen off, but we ignored him. I got in trouble with the school I'd borrowed my tuba from for that.
Children are certainly not miniature adults. But you don't have to be just like the average adult to be treated with respect, though our society thinks so. In some way, though kids are discriminated against, it's not as bad as with disabled people, because kids are future adults. It's expected that a child will become an adult. Disability is usually lifelong.
There's also how teenagers are stereotyped, as irresponsible troublemakers. Teens are different from adults, and on average are less concerned about long-term consequences and more concerned with peers and thrills, but a) not all teens are like that and b) that's not all bad.
I'd like it if being "treated like a child" stopped being a bad thing. Children and disabled people experience "discrimination by association" a form of discrimination where one discriminated-against group is compared to another. I think both children and disabled people should be viewed as different, and worthy of respect, with valuable opinions.


Blogger Estee Klar-Wolfond said...

Good argument. How would you answer the different degrees of disability question? In other words, if disabilities are not created equal, we can't necessarily treat them equally. However, we can, and must, always presume competence and treat with dignity and respect.


4:49 AM  
Blogger Ettina said...

The difference between equity and equality. Equity is balancing the needs of diverse people while viewing them as equal and different, equality is treating them all the same.

9:40 PM  

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