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About Ableism

What is ableism?

Ableism, much like other "isms," is a form of discrimination in favor of abled people. Ableism can be directed toward those with physical, cognitive, and mental disabilities. While ableism may be most apparent and direct towards those with physical disabilities, those with "hidden disabilities," such as neurodivergence, are not immune.

Where is ableism found?

Ableism can be present in interactions with others (interpersonal ableism), in the way systems and environments are set up (institutional ableism), and in our own self-talk (internalized ableism).

What does ableism look like?

  • Interpersonal ableism

    • Mocking or Ridiculing: Making fun of someone's disability, using derogatory language, or belittling their experiences.

    • Pity or Patronizing Attitudes: Treating someone with a disability as an object of pity or charity, rather than as an equal individual.

    • Ignoring or Excluding: Excluding people with disabilities from social activities, conversations, or events, or ignoring their contributions and opinions.

    • Assuming Incompetence: Assuming that a person with a disability is incapable or incompetent without giving them the opportunity to demonstrate their abilities.

    • Over-helpfulness or Infantilization: Offering unsolicited help or assuming that a person with a disability needs assistance with tasks they can do independently, which can be demeaning and disempowering.

    • Invasion of Personal Space: Touching or invading the personal space of a person with a disability without their consent, such as moving a wheelchair without permission.

    • Disbelief or Dismissal: Dismissing or invalidating the experiences or challenges faced by people with disabilities, such as not believing someone's pain or denying their need for accommodations.

    • Microaggressions: Making subtle comments or engaging in behaviors that convey ableist assumptions or stereotypes, such as complimenting someone for "doing so well despite their disability."

    • Physical or Verbal Abuse: Engaging in physical or verbal abuse towards individuals with disabilities, including bullying, harassment, or violence.

    • Denial of Autonomy and Agency: Disregarding the autonomy and agency of people with disabilities by making decisions for them without their consent or input.

  • Institutional ableism

    • Inaccessible Infrastructure: Buildings, transportation systems, and public spaces that lack ramps, elevators, sensory modifications, or other accommodations.

    • Limited Educational Opportunities: Schools, colleges, and universities that don't provide adequate support or resources for students with disabilities, such as accessible learning materials, assistive technologies, or inclusive teaching methods.

    • Employment Discrimination: Workplaces that fail to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities, or that have hiring practices that discriminate against disabled job seekers.

    • Healthcare Disparities: Medical facilities and healthcare systems that are not equipped to meet the needs of people with disabilities, leading to inadequate treatment or inaccessible care.

    • Legal Barriers: Laws and policies that perpetuate ableism, such as restrictions on the rights of people with disabilities to vote, access public services, or make decisions about their own lives.

    • Social Services: Government programs and social services that are designed without considering the needs of people with disabilities, resulting in barriers to accessing benefits, support, or assistance.

    • Media Representation: Media outlets and cultural representations that depict people with disabilities in stereotypical or stigmatizing ways, reinforcing negative attitudes and misconceptions.

    • Language and Communication: Use of ableist language or communication practices that marginalize or devalue people with disabilities, such as derogatory terms or assumptions about competence.

  • Internalized ableism

    • Self-Doubt and Low Self-Esteem: Feeling inferior or inadequate because of one's disability, internalizing societal messages that equate disability with worthlessness or incompetence.

    • Internalized Stereotypes: Believing negative stereotypes about one's own disability, such as seeing oneself as a burden, incapable, or inherently flawed.

    • Self-Imposed Limitations: Restricting oneself from pursuing certain opportunities or activities due to internalized beliefs about one's abilities or worthiness.

    • Denial of Disability: Rejecting or minimizing one's own disability as a way to avoid stigma or discrimination, which can lead to neglecting necessary accommodations or support.

    • Shame and Stigma: Feeling ashamed of one's disability or trying to hide it from others out of fear of judgment or rejection.

    • Internalized Ableist Language: Using ableist language to describe oneself or others with disabilities, such as derogatory terms or phrases that reinforce negative stereotypes.

    • Seeking to "Pass" as Non-Disabled: Striving to emulate non-disabled behavior or appearance in order to fit in or avoid discrimination, leading to a denial of one's authentic identity.

    • Blaming Oneself for Challenges: Blaming oneself for the barriers or challenges faced due to disability, rather than recognizing systemic ableism as the root cause.

    • Internalized Misconceptions about Success: Believing that success or happiness is not attainable for people with disabilities, internalizing ableist notions of what it means to lead a fulfilling life.

    • Resistance to Disability Pride or Community: Feeling disconnected from or rejecting disability pride movements or communities due to internalized shame or stigma.

Why is ableism harmful?

  • Violation of Rights: Ableism denies individuals with disabilities their fundamental human rights, including the rights to equality, dignity, and autonomy. It restricts their access to opportunities, resources, and services that are available to non-disabled individuals.

  • Social Exclusion: Ableism reinforces social hierarchies that position people with disabilities as inferior or less valuable members of society. It leads to exclusion from social activities, employment opportunities, educational settings, and public spaces.

  • Stigma and Stereotyping: Ableism perpetuates negative stereotypes and stigmatization of people with disabilities, portraying them as helpless, dependent, or incompetent. This leads to prejudice, discrimination, and misconceptions about the capabilities and contributions of individuals with disabilities.

  • Psychological Impact: Ableism can have significant psychological effects on individuals with disabilities, including low self-esteem, internalized stigma, anxiety, depression, and feelings of isolation. It undermines their sense of worth and belonging in society.

  • Barriers to Accessibility: Ableism results in the design of environments, products, and services that are inaccessible to people with disabilities. This creates physical, social, and communication barriers that limit their participation in various aspects of life, including education, employment, healthcare, and community engagement.

  • Health Disparities: Ableism contributes to disparities in healthcare access and quality for people with disabilities, leading to inadequate treatment, neglect, and systemic barriers to receiving appropriate care. This can result in poorer health outcomes and reduced quality of life.

  • Economic Inequality: Ableism perpetuates economic inequality by limiting the employment opportunities and earning potential of people with disabilities. Discriminatory practices in hiring, promotion, and workplace accommodations contribute to higher rates of unemployment, poverty, and financial insecurity among individuals with disabilities.

  • Interpersonal Harm: Ableism can damage interpersonal relationships by fostering attitudes of pity, patronization, or indifference towards people with disabilities. It undermines empathy, compassion, and solidarity within communities, perpetuating social divisions and barriers to inclusion.

What can I do better today?

  • Continue educating yourself on ableism and how it shows up in you

  • Presume competence in everyone you meet

  • Honor autonomy and personal space

  • Use neutral language about disabilities (especially with children)

  • Show yourself grace and care for your own well-being

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