What is Ableism?
Ableism means valuing and favouring people based on the abilities of their minds and bodies. In simpler terms, ableism is thinking, believing or behaving as though a person without disability is more capable or superior than a person with disability.
Ableism is built on a set of ideas constructed by the society about what is “normal”, “intelligent”, “excellent”, “desirable” and “productive” (Talila “TL” Lewis, 2021).
‘Normal’ is a myth, a problem and a privilege.Talila “TL” Lewis, 2021
Ableism views disability as not desirable. However, the truth is that the world is not built with disability in mind, leaving out people with disabilities. Hence this makes living and navigating the world hard (impossible for some) for persons with disabilities.
Ableism is a form of systemic discrimination and oppression of persons with disabilities. This is manifested in how non-disabled people exercise power over people with disabilities in harmful ways that respond to the perceived disability. The harmful ways include violence, withholding or withdrawing resources, degrading personhood, and eugenics. It is important to note that one does not have to be disabled to experience ableism.
Ableism is found in every aspect of daily living:
- How people talk about disability and persons with disability,
- How people communicate with others,
- How people make friends,
- How people are recruited, hired and promoted; and how wages are paid,
- How students are taught, assessed, and excluded in schools
- How buildings and infrastructures are designed and built,
- How information is provided, whether face-to-face, on paper, or digitally,
- How healthcare is provided or withheld,
- How sexual and reproductive health services and education are withheld from persons with disabilities, especially women and girls with disabilities,
- How persons with disabilities lack legal rights and are discriminated in the legal systems,
- How policies are developed.
Examples of Ableism
Below are some examples of ableism:
- Toilets that wheelchair users cannot enter or use safely.
- Ramp slopes that are too steep, too long and without a resting place,
- No provision of alt text or captions for images posted on websites and social media platforms.
- No provision of accurate captions for films and videos.
- Sexual and reproductive health care services that are difficult for women and girls with disabilities to access and understand.
- Websites that are not usable by screen-reader users, users who can only manage keyboard navigation, users with learning disabilities, and users who are deaf and hard-of-hearing.
- Disaster warnings and rescue information that are issued only in audio format, which cannot be accessed by Deaf persons, persons with auditory processing disorders or poor working memory, and people who do not understand the language used.
- Denying students the permission to use support tools and strategies to enable learning, such as doodling while listening, typing instead of writing, having access to lesson notes before class, etc.
- Ignoring the fact that many disabilities are not visible, and doubting a person’s need to use facilities for disabled persons, such as accessible toilets, seats on public transport, accessible parking.
- Refusing to treat or rescue persons with disabilities based on the assumption that they shall not live long or deserve a good quality of life.
- Making fun of, name-calling, or insulting persons with disabilities because they think it is okay to hurt them because of their disabilities.
- Treating adults with disabilities as if they are children.
- Speaking over persons with disabilities and, speaking to caregivers, as if they do not have views and cannot express their views.
*Note: Resources linked are in English and pdf format or webpage, unless stated otherwise.
The Inherent Ableism of Being “Productive” by Mary Elizabeth in Hack Library School
“You Do Not Exist To Be Used”: Why Your Life Purpose Is Bigger Than Capitalist Productivity by Gillian Giles in The Body Is Not An Apology
3 Ableisms Series by Andrew Pulrang
Working Definition of Ableism – January 2022 Update by Talila “TL” Lewis
- Talila Lewis’s working definition of ableism is based on her 2019 post:Longmore Lecture: Context, Clarity & Grounding
Ableism and Ableist Microaggressions by Hassina Obaidy
Ableism in the Workplace: When Trying Harder Doesn’t Work by Nancy Doyle
Workplace Ableism Is a Problem for ADA Rights by Nathaniel Levy
Are you ableist? Take our quiz to learn more about disability bias by The Washington Post
Dealing with Medical Ableism by Andrew Pulrang
These Doctors Admit They Don’t Want Patients with Disabilities by Gina Kolata in New York Times
Medical Ableism is a Cultural and Institutional Issue, not an Individual Problem by Marisa Kierra in The Black Youth Project
Ableism in Other Issues
Eliminating Ableism in Education by Thomas Hehir
Ableism in Academia: Theorising experiences of disabilities and chronic illnesses in higher education (pdf book), edited by Nicole Brown and Jennifer Leigh
Abortion Based on Disabilities is Ableism by Maggie Lineburg
Legal Abortion Isn’t the Problem to Be Solved by Pasquale Toscano and Alexis Doyle
How Ableism Leads to Inaccessibility by Olivier Nourry
Speaking Up Against Ableism
10 Answers to Common Questions People Ask When Being Called Out for Using Ableist Language by Rachel Cohen-Rottenburg