Confessions of an MS Ableist: Change Begins With Me

Jennifer (Jenn) Powell avatar

by Jennifer (Jenn) Powell |

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Life is composed of little awakenings. These epiphanies broaden our horizons. Each invites us to become better versions of ourselves. And while not always welcome, most are necessary for growth.

I recently flew across the country to the corporate office of BioNews, the company I work for that publishes MS News Today. After a 14-month hiatus, it felt good to be back in the air. In preparation for my trip, I requested a wheelchair for my connection there and back. I double-checked this request before takeoff.

I disembarked the plane to no wheelchair. My legs were numb, and I tripped on the jetway. Embarrassed, I righted myself and made my way to the gate agent. After perusing my ticket, the gate agent said my connection was not that far.

I cringe each time I replay this comment. I had not asked them to quantify the distance. I requested help and should have received assistance. But when challenged, I allowed myself to be intimidated. Instead of stating my need for a wheelchair, I acquiesced.

I was disappointed in myself far more than the airline. While they dropped the ball, I kicked it away. I thought about my disability and others who face similar situations. Frustration turned to anger, and anger to resolve. The truth left me disquieted. And at that moment, I vowed to do better.

It was one of my awakenings.

Before this trip, I would have never described myself as an ableist. I was wrong.

According to Stop Ableism, ableism is the “practices and dominant attitudes in society that devalue and limit the potential of persons with disabilities. A set of practices and beliefs that assign inferior value (worth) to people who have developmental, emotional, physical or psychiatric disabilities.”

Ableism is any prejudice toward the disabled. Ableism often goes unchallenged. Internalized ableism is when disabled people view themselves as less than able-bodied people. I displayed internalized ableism when I marginalized my own needs. I felt ashamed until I confided in a dear friend and colleague. We spoke, exposed, cried, prayed, laughed, and hugged. Our shared desire to do better left me inspired.

Disabled people experience a different world. Inclusion will evade us until this changes. While I cannot change the world with my view, I can certainly change mine. And that is a good start.


Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.


Leanne Broughton avatar

Leanne Broughton

Disappointed that you backed down. That doesn't sound like you. I would sound like a "B" and embarrass my husband. Lol

Jennifer (Jenn) Powell avatar

Jennifer (Jenn) Powell


You would not have been a B you would have been doing the right thing. And I can only learn from my mistake and do better the next time.

Thank you for reading and commenting.


Phil Marino avatar

Phil Marino

I know what you mean, the daily frustrations, of questioning your behavior. I'm not as bold and decisive as I used to be, probably from MS; or the fear of possibly not being independent anymore, and not being able to support myself. I question myself all the time, and suffer from short periods of depression. You just have to live with it. A true optimist doesn't think everything is going to be ok, but makes the best out of a bad situation. That's when you learn what you're really made of.
Try not to be so hard on yourself, MS is hard enough. Most people have no idea what we're/you're going through. Until people suffer themselves, they have no idea what suffering really is.

Jennifer (Jenn) Powell avatar

Jennifer (Jenn) Powell


Thank you for your thoughtful response. It is natural to feel exhausted by the many ways we are challenged. Depression is a very common by product and something I contend with too. It's so important to show ourselves the kindess and compassion we don't always receive. You certainly have shown that with me. Thank you.


Allison avatar


So sorry you had to deal with someone who has a perception disability called Ableism. I also have SPMS with mobility issues and fatigue, and Ableis is why I have been researching portable/foldable electric wheelchairs- so I won’t have to rely on others for assistance. It’s also so that I can make it obvious that I’m still a bright, intelligent person who is very capable of making her own decisions. You are that woman, too! Stay strong ?. Thank you for your post.

Jennifer (Jenn) Powell avatar

Jennifer (Jenn) Powell


Thank you for sharing your experience. I applaud you for taking control of your situation and setting yourself up for success. I hope as we illuminate ableism we can encourage healthy dialogue. Doing so will help people empathize with what they cannot possibly understand.

You are a truly a
remarkably strong and bright individual Thank you for sharing your thoughts.


Mike avatar


Wow, this is good. I'm only 4 years into thing and I don't even know what I call some of these things I do, or don't do. I'm not sure if I'm becoming more aware or I'm just getting tired of all of it. I do find myself being more persistent and asking for help when I need it. I guess, like all of us, I'm a work in progress. One thing I do know is that your article gave me comfort that there are people out there who get it. It helps. Thank you!

Jennifer (Jenn) Powell avatar

Jennifer (Jenn) Powell


Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. We are all humans and each of us continues to learn and grow. We evolve just as our MS does and through learning more we do better.

I aspire to be a better version of myself. I can think of no greater investment. Thank you for your kindness, Mike. You are doing great!

Thank you,


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