My Thoughts, What I'm Up To

Don’t Let Internalized Ableism Stop You From Using Assistive Technology

Photo looks over Emma's right shoulder at her desk and laptop. There are plants and books on the desk.

Recently, I learned the true value of assistive technology and the extent of my own internalized ableism. One Monday morning, my laptop started overheating to the point where it actually started to hurt my fingers. Before anyone starts worrying, I am not still using it! It’s been sent off to be repaired but that means I’m having to go without it for about a week and a half. (Note: Scope has found me a suitable laptop with everything I need in a couple of days. I cannot fault them in any way.)

I have been much less active over the past 18 months. When you have a muscle-wasting condition, this means a quick loss of whatever strength you do have. I was so reluctant to accept that my ability to type for a whole workday was getting worse. I thought I could power through. (Comment below if you’re disabled and have thought this too!) This, unsurprisingly, didn’t work.

My work means everything to me. I love advocating for disabled people and trying to influence change that will have a real impact on our lives. So why was I letting my stubbornness and internalized ableism hinder me? This idea that if I don’t let my disability “win” by accepting help, then I was somehow beating it, is totally flawed. I am not less disabled if I use tech to help me. In fact, the social model of disability could argue I am making myself more disabled by creating yet another barrier to working in an equal capacity to my non-disabled colleagues. This piece by Amelia Blackwater on The Mighty perfectly describes how I once viewed assistive tech. “Internalized ableism isn’t always intentional. Sometimes it comes from wanting to seem ‘normal,’ so we reject whatever society deems as being associated with disability.”

I soon realized I needed to start using dictation software if I wanted to keep working at the capacity I’m used to. I have heard so many good things about Dragon speech recognition, dictation, and transcription software, so I decided to give it a try. I’ve been using it for about two months now and I can’t begin to tell you how much I use it. Every email and paper can now just be dictated to my laptop and it appears on screen without tiring out my arms! If any part of you is thinking about using dictation software but something is holding you back, please give it a try. I know it’s expensive software but there are cheaper or even free options that could help, such as voice-to-text on mobile devices.

But with my laptop in the shop, I am without Dragon for a few days. It. Has. Been. Hard! I only now realize how much I used it and how much it helps me get my work done. I have found myself apologizing over and over to my manager for not working at my usual speed. She has completely understood and has given me no reason to feel like I’m behind or not performing. The pressure to not let my disability impact my work is just internalized ableism striking again!

It won’t be long until I get the Dragon software back (my arms shout “Thank goodness!”). But these few days have taught me to challenge other instances of internalized ableism in my life and encourage others to consider assistive tech. Don’t let this need to be “normal” or “less disabled” hold you back or make your life harder as I did for too long.

This piece was published on The Mighty on October 21, 2021.

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