Be an Ally

By Paul Miller, Inclusion Specialist, MDRC

What makes a good ally for the disabled community? The simplest and most basic answer is that both an ally and self-advocate would fight ableism.

You may ask: what an ally do on the average day?

One time, I was getting out of work and decided to run an errand. I was walking through town trying to figure out where to go for my item, when Michelle, an MSU teacher pulled up. She was able to suggest where to go and offered me a ride. I felt confident and secure and got what I needed. This was very helpful because there were no assumptions and questions were asked conversationally. She was an ally. Since we were going in different directions we parted ways.

An experience on my way home provides an example of the opposite of an ally. I was at a busy street and decided instead of crossing to the most direct bus, I decided to take another bus to the next stop and meet it there. A woman I have never seen before was at the stop. She was encouraging me to cross the four lanes of busy traffic and making the point I was getting on the wrong bus. So far this was annoying. What made this stranger the opposite of an ally was she felt the need to speak up and tell the driver her opinion that I was making a mistake. I was able to get off at the stop of the bus I needed. What the woman did when talking for me was send the message that I needed someone who knew better in my life. She didn’t see me as an equal. She was operating under assumptions that I needed help when I didn’t and she undermined my humanity.

You don’t need to be an expert to be an ally. A lot of the time it gets in the way. I may be an ally for another group. In everyday living it’s best to be a helpful friend. The mistake would be to try to the expert. You could create an environment where the person you’re trying to help feels defensive or insecure. If you want to help a stranger remember the first step is introduce yourself and never make an assumption.

You can be a great ally.

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