Chadwick Boseman’s Untimely Death Sparks Global Conversation About Ableism
The sudden and untimely death of Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman has left the world stunned, shocked, in awe and sadness. The actor was just 43 years old and very few people knew that he was secretly battling with colon cancer. What is still so shocking to many was the fact that Boseman pushed through his condition for so long, determined not to let it affect him or his work. His death has opened up a global conversation about invisible conditions and how those with chronic illnesses navigate the world and the workplace. One can only image what Boseman was experiencing while filming some of his greatest roles, which include James Brown and Jackie Robinson. A likely motivator for Boseman’s decision to keep his condition a secret was to avoid the stigma and stereotypes that the public associates with chronic illness. Ableism, which is the discrimination faced by people with disabilities, is still an ongoing issue. Many of Boseman’s fans expressed concern when Boseman appeared on an Instagram video looking much thinner than usual. Ableism is one of the many “isms” that must be dismantled in the fight to deconstruct oppression and inequity.
Having open and honest dialogue about disability discrimination and chronic illness stigmatization is imperative. Ableism isn’t often the primary topic of discussion when conversations about prejudice and bias take place. Evidence indicates that individuals with disabilities have lower employment rates than those without disabilities. An interesting and little known fact is that the disabled are the world’s largest minority group, making up 15% of the world’s population according the United Nations. Another noteworthy consideration when it comes to the disabled is that this population is one that anyone can become part of at any given moment. Because of this, one would expect the public’s perceptions, acceptance and understanding for this group to be more positive—but that’s not often the case.
A promising change that was brought on by Covid-19 is the increased ability to now work remotely. Prior to Covid, many in the disabled population were told that they could not work remotely which may have limited job prospects. Now, with companies more open to telework, the barriers to career advancement may diminish. There is less worry of accommodations causing companies “undue hardship.” Research indicates that some of the main obstacles that those with disabilities face are a lack of accessibility and discriminatory practices. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), organizations must provide employees who are considered to have a disability with a “reasonable accommodation.” What employers deem as reasonable varies depending on the company, but workers with disabilities sometimes end up getting the short end of the stick. Organizations looking to dismantle ableism and create a more equitable workplace must provide the education needed for greater understanding and awareness. The aforementioned research found that more learning is needed so corporations must prioritize policies, practices and procedures aimed at shattering ableism in their diversity, equity and inclusion trainings. Education about these stigmas is a very important and critical piece of the puzzle. If we are ever to create a world free of all the “isms,” more critical dialogue and learning is needed from the larger population.