"I'm not disabled" a student of mine says, complaining to a teacher about how her peers were saying she was. "I know" is the basic reply of the teacher, telling her about what she can do, yet ignoring the fact that yes, she is disabled. That most of the people I work with are. That me, the person who is most praised in the school for my math ability, is disabled.
She calms down, but the way it is done, is by removing this, and later on, with others, she talks about when she goes to college, she will refuse to show them her IEP, refuse to ask for or accept any accommodations. She only wants to be normal. She doesn't want to be seen as different, doesn't want to see herself as different. She repeats, again and again how she isn't different at all, is normal. She's normal. She insists.
She must have forgotten that the person she was speaking to was disabled. I am open about my disability. The students talk to me about my autism and my migraines. I tell the other adults things about myself to advocate for the students, because sometimes its the best way I have. But now, there was a student telling me, how that wasn't her. Telling someone who accepts this part of herself how it is being rejected.
Everyone else was helping her reject it. The kids were teasing her for being disabled. The adults, reassuring her how normal she was, and saying how she wasn't disabled. Both weren't letting her have it be part of her, and weren't letting her have what she needed.
So instead, I ended up sitting down with her, explaining why she should get accommodations. I explained how they wouldn't make her a bad person. I explained why they wouldn't be her taking advantage of the school. I explained how what they were was instead helping match her education to her. And to help her, I truthfully said that I think everyone should have individualized education, not only disabled people.
We started going through what some accommodations would be that would help her in higher education, rather than limiting it to her IEP, when she goes to college, what are things that are appropriate for her to think about asking for (such as exams in rooms with small groups instead of large lecture halls)? And at the same time, what are things she can do to better her own education on her own (such as recording audio of all lectures on her phone). And slowly, the accommodations became part of her, they weren't something being done to her, someone claiming she needed things she didn't want because she wasn't good enough, they were something that she was controlling, strengthening herself.
Rather than an IEP being something that was people saying "you can't do things the normal way" like she had been taking it as, no matter how the teachers were actually speaking to her, her internalized ableism wasn't as strong, she could view herself as being able to use accommodations. The word "disability" applied to her didn't have as much a strength when it came to how insulted she felt.
Internalized ableism can affect people a lot. I've seen large amounts of self-hatred because of people hating their disability. I've seen large amounts of people refusing to admit they are disabled, because they don't want a "bad" thing associated with them. People refuse accommodations, refuse to do things that might make them look odd, refuse to do things associated with their disorder because they want to see themselves as normal - even when it is at the cost of being more symptomatic.
Actually using tools when they help is powerful. Actually using the accommodations you can can be the difference between managing and not. These can be challenging to do, because we're so used to being told not to, to not being able to, to having to fight to look normal. Sometimes, the first fight, or even biggest one, is against is ourselves.