Opinion | Ableism is everywhere and we need to address it

By Megan Harding, Assistant Opinions Editor

In March, conservative political commentator Candace Owens made some rather distasteful comments about disability representation in clothing company SKIMS.

Model Haleigh Rosa was featured on the SKIMS website in a wheelchair advertising a new adaptive clothing line. Instead of scrolling or looking at the hundreds of other clothing ads that feature able-bodied models, Owens decided she needed to dedicate a whole segment to complaining about the company’s decision to use a disabled model.

“I don’t really understand how far we’re going to take this inclusivity thing,” Owens said on her podcast. “I think people in wheelchairs will back me up on this. I think they’re on my side. I think they think this is stupid.”

To Owen’s surprise, this was not the case. Many disabled content creators called her out on her ableist comment and lack of understanding for people who live with disabilities. 

Especially since this was an adaptive bra and underwear line, some argued that these articles of clothing were made specifically for their bodies and it would only make sense for someone who had a disability to model them. 

    Sign up for our newsletter!

    Ultimately, Owens failed to realize that, just like any other minority group, seeing someone who looks like you is comforting. 

    This advertisement gave people with disabilities a small portion of the everyday luxury able-bodied people have of seeing themselves represented, yet, according to Owens, that was just taking it “too far.”

    Unfortunately, Owens’ comment is not uncommon and just a small piece of people’s lack of understanding for those with disabilities. Ableism is everywhere: in most public places, in government and lawmaking and even our University and campus community.

    For a campus that prides itself on being equitable, athlete, scholar and ROTC class registration takes precedence over people registered with Disability Resources and Education Services. 

    It is little things like this that invalidate those with disabilities and makes it seem like others’ conveniences come before their needs.

    Sure, if you’re an athlete who has practice from 8 a.m. to noon every day, finding classes that fit into that schedule may be challenging — and there’s nothing wrong with having early registration to ensure that can work. 

    However, someone who is in a wheelchair needs to make sure they can get to their classes during the day or have accessible classrooms.

    I am not sure how University personnel sat down and decided a James Scholar student should be able to register before someone who is planning their schedule around their needs.

    Additionally, there are barriers to even receiving DRES services. There is a waitlist to receive testing for eligibility and not all disabilities are equally considered. And, of course, income plays a role. If a student doesn’t get a proper diagnosis from a medical professional, their options may be limited. 

    Even with accommodations, professors do not always take disabilities seriously. In instances where a letter of accommodation says a student can be excused from a lecture, on a technicality, professors may not excuse them from a lab.

    Professors may also question the “necessity” of an accommodation or refuse to honor an accommodation. While this is not allowed, there is a lack of accountability for those with tenure and in positions of power.

    In a society where disabled people are constantly infantilized and discriminated against, empathy and understanding from people in positions of power make a big difference. 

    When accessibility is not the standard and people often do not know even the most basic things about disability, representation is beyond important.


    Megan is a freshman in Media.

    [email protected]