The world is set up for and favours able-bodied people. Often concerns about disabled people are an afterthought. This discrimination and prejudice against people with disabilities is called ableism. It manifests in different ways from beliefs that disabled people are not as valuable as their able-bodied counterparts to the inaccessible physical architecture in which we live. As with other forms of discrimination, it can be intentional or unintentional as a result of social conditioning in a society that views the able-bodied as the default and the priority.
Ableism is one of the most common and strongest forms of implicit and explicit bias surpassing gender, race, weight and sexuality and is only surpassed by ageism. We are all implicated. Hopefully, we identify ways we’ve been erring and change.
Let’s talk about some examples of ableism and then listen to some disabled people on Twitter share the most ableist things they’ve ever been told.
Examples of ableism
Ableism can take many different forms so an exhaustive list is not possible. Ableism can be interpersonal or institutional, hostile or benevolent.
Institutional or structural ableism is wide-reaching, for example, medical ableism is rooted in the idea that disability of any kind needs fixing while interpersonal takes place in social interactions and relationships, for example between a parent and child with the parent trying to cure the child.
Hostile includes aggressive behaviour like bullying and abuse while benevolent includes things like viewing disabled people as weak, or in need of rescuing which can be patronizing reinforcing an unequal power dynamic. Here are some common examples:
- Believing people with disabilities have less value and worth
- Assuming they want to be ‘healed’ or can ‘overcome’ a disability
- Assuming they lead an unhappy, limited life
- Suggesting they’re ‘inspirational’ for handling everyday activities and routine tasks
- Assuming a physical disability is a product of laziness or lack of exercise
- Assuming they can’t do things for themselves
- Using words like ‘normal’ and ‘healthy’ to describe non-disabled people
- Asking intrusive questions about someone’s disability
- Asking someone what is ‘wrong’ with them
- Touching someone, or any equipment or devices they use without permission
- Ignoring requests for accommodations or refusing to acknowledge someone’s disability
- Refusing to use the terms someone requests like ‘deaf person’ or ‘neurodivergent’ or ‘wheelchair user’
- Questioning whether a person’s disability is real
- Saying, ‘You do not look disabled’, as though this is a compliment
- Using public facilities that are for people with disabilities such as parking spaces or toilets
- Using ableist language especially after someone asks you to stop e.g. common terms like ‘I am so OCD’ or saying something is ‘dumb’ or ‘lame’ which were originally used to describe disabilities
On a larger scale ableism includes inaccessible design in buildings, public spaces and more as well as education and employment discrimination to name a few.
Disabled people on Twitter speak
In response to a prompt from disability activist Imani Barbarin, Twitter users shared their experiences with ableism spanning from the workplace to medicine, academia and their personal lives.
1. You don’t deserve to live and other stories
2. You don’t deserve love
3. About work
4. Doctors weigh in
5. Just general ableism
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