You’ve probably seen videos of Trump walking down a ramp and drinking from a glass with two hands recently. I will admit that when I first saw these, I felt a brief glimmer of...something. See, he really is losing it! Maybe you did too. But, I quickly checked myself.
Why should I check myself? Why shouldn’t I join people posting on Twitter and Facebook about Trump’s state of poor health? Shouldn’t we be allowed this moment of what feels like vindication?
The answer is twofold: first, I would be inadvertently hurting my friends, colleagues, and internet strangers with disabilities, and second I would be perpetuating ableism.
Let’s tackle the hurt first, because that’s what I usually shy away from (and let’s face it, many of us do). But it is an important piece of this. Imagine that you are living with a condition that affects your gait sometimes or all the time. Or you struggle from time to time with lifting objects. Maybe you suffered a spinal cord injury. Or, you have a neurological disease. How do you think you would feel about seeing people blatantly make fun of these issues? Probably not great.
But – you might say – Trump deserves it for mocking others with disabilities. That may be true, yet when you are living with a health condition and you see people making fun of someone else for it, your feelings don’t hurt less just because that person is Trump. Feelings don’t work that way.
Also, to state the obvious - Trump is not seeing or hearing you make fun of him. He is not "getting what he deserves." People with disabilities are seeing you and hearing you. And it hurts.
Now, let’s talk about ableism. Let’s try to put aside, for a moment, that this is just about making fun of Trump, and consider the idea that our words might have broader-reaching consequences. There is lots of evidence that bias against people with disabilities in the workplace exists. People with disabilities have lower rates of employment and higher rates of unemployment than people without disabilities, even after accounting for age and education attained.
Consider that, by equating leadership ability with health status, you may be playing a role in perpetuating such bias. It may not be intentional, but by normalizing and perpetuating the message that poor health means you should be out of your leadership role, you are furthering ableism and bias against the disabled.
U.S. federal law states that people should be evaluated at work based on their performance in the job, not their race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, skin color, national origin, or presence of a disabling health condition. So, let’s evaluate Trump on his performance, and leave what you think are signs of health issues out of it. There are, quite literally, hundreds of things you can say about his performance that have nothing to do with his health.
As a final point, you can be sure that there are people you work with, maybe even leaders in your organization, who have neurological, psychiatric, or other chronic health conditions. In the U.S., 60 percent of adults have at least one chronic health condition, and 42 percent have two or more chronic health conditions. So, be careful with your words, because people with disabilities are listening.