HomeableismAbleism in the Geek World

I don’t get into arguments online very often anymore. I don’t see the point in them, and they generally do nothing good for anyone.A woman's fingers resting on a computer keyboard.

Two Examples
I still read comments from time to time, though. Earlier today, I was reading through some comments on a post about how men need to start listening to women’s experiences with sexism in the geek community.

Naturally, one guy handled it poorly and was promptly smacked down. For every piece written about sexism, there’s always at least one comment proving the need for the conversation.

Somewhere along the line, another guy commented, asking for clarification, mentioning that not everyone learns in the same way. A couple of the people who were dominating the comments attacked him for asking. They saw him only as a guy trying to challenge them instead of someone who needed help understanding what they were trying to say.

The same thing happened to a family member with a cognitive disability. His attackers would not lay off until I bluntly told them that they’re attacking someone who cannot understand what they’re trying to say unless they replaced the insults and sarcasm with straightforward information. Those particular people back-pedaled as soon as they realized what they were doing.

I don’t know if they thought to apply that experience to future conversations, but they seemed pretty stunned with that one.

This is a form of discrimination
This is part of a larger pattern. It clouds messages of equal rights, invalidates those who are fighting for them and discourages quite a few people from taking part in conversations.

I’ve been attacked for asking for clarification, too. Dyslexia makes it difficult to understand what some comments are trying to say. When I’m attacked, it’s even harder to frame replies in a way that makes sense.

People on the other end of the screen automatically assumed I was either less intelligent than they were or was being willfully ignorant. It happens all the time to people talking about all kinds of things.

Yes, there are bigots out there who refuse to listen to what everyone else is saying, but they’re usually pretty bad at feigning ignorance. They generally return attacks with glee and refuse to budge on the subject.

Simple requests for clarification on a long thread don’t deserve automatic attack. If they follow-up with derogatory comments or refuse to listen to any attempt to summarize, then the person in question probably wasn’t willing to listen in the first place.

Going after someone based on ability level is just as bad as going after them because of their gender, race or any other quality they have no choice over.

Tone Policing
To be clear, I am not saying that oppressed groups be nice, kind and courteous all the time. Be angry. Use that anger to cause change. If you want to attack people online, that’s your prerogative. Call out bad behavior.

This entry is me calling out bad behavior I see repeated in the larger geek and social justice communities. When you attack someone for politely asking for clarification, you’re at best alienating a potential ally and at worst discriminating against someone with a disability or who is neurodivergent.

I’m so tired of people using errors in language or difficulty comprehending text as fodder for abuse and bullying. The only reason people on either side of the issue at hand do that is to derail the conversation in their favor. That’s a big reason why I now avoid online debates.

A lot of people do seem to like them, though, and there’s pressure to take part in them. If you want more people to take part in debates, remember ability level varies, and not everyone wears their labels on their sleeves.

Take the time to read comments and spot patterns in behavior. You’ll soon notice a distinct difference between trolls and people just struggling to navigate the conversation.

If you don’t include disability in your activism, your activism is not intersectional. If you use any sort of disability as a tool against someone else, you’re letting your prejudices show.


Ableism in the Geek World — 2 Comments

  1. That was a good read, and an eye-opener. Even someone who’s been an ASD mom for almost 17 years doesn’t think about this in online forums; time to start.

    • Glad to bring another POV to your experience! It’s not something often addressed, unfortunately. On the bright side, it is being talked about more than it had been in the past.

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