What is Ableism?

Social habits, practices, regulations, laws, and institutions that operate under the assumption that disabled people are inherently less capable overall, less valuable in society, and / or should have less personal autonomy than is ordinarily granted to people of the same age.

Source: "Words Matter, And It's Time to Explore The Meaning Of 'Ableism.'" 

Ableism Summarized by Haben Girma

Personal Ableism

Personal ableism covers our personal biases towards disabled people and how we treat them as a result. It's also important to note that both non-disabled and disabled people can have ableist views.

These biases may emerge in actions such as:

  • Telling a disabled person that they don't look disabled or that everyone is a little disabled.
  • Not being able to say the word disabled and using euphemisms to avoid saying it. 
  • Avoiding a disabled person because you aren't sure how to interact with the person or their disability makes you uncomfortable.
  • Believing that all disabilities are visible and that all disabled people have identified their disability (many disabled people with non-apparent disabilities avoid identifying their disabilities due to stigma and discrimination).
  • Treating a disabled person as lesser than or as a child. For example, congratulating a disabled person who completes the same task as a non-disabled person when you wouldn't congratulate the non-disabled person for completing that task.
  • Not accommodating a disabled person's needs or determining what accommodations that person needs without asking them. 
  • Making jokes about disabilities or calling out a person's behavior because it doesn't align with what you perceive as typical behavior. For example, calling out someone doodling in a meeting when it may be a way for them to focus.
  • Viewing disabled people as inspirational solely or in part on the basis of their disability. This is integrated into society from media to inspirational quotes. Stella Young covers this in depth in her video below. 

Understanding why viewing disability as an inspiration is ableist

Stella Young Video Transcript Available on TED.

Understanding and confronting internalized ableism

Due to society's biases around disability, disabled people often face internalized ableism, where they may believe they are not disabled enough or that disability itself is bad and something to be afraid of, thus fearing the concept of identifying as disabled. Jo Copson talks about internalized ableism in her TedTalk and how to confront internalized ableism. 

Book Spotlight: "Academic Ableism: Disability and Higher Education"

Academic Ableism brings together disability studies and institutional critique to recognize the ways that disability is composed in and by higher education, and rewrites the spaces, times, and economies of disability in higher education to place disability front and center. For too long, argues Jay Timothy Dolmage, disability has been constructed as the antithesis of higher education, often positioned as a distraction, a drain, a problem to be solved. The ethic of higher education encourages students and teachers alike to accentuate ability, valorize perfection, and stigmatize anything that hints at intellectual, mental, or physical weakness, even as we gesture toward the value of diversity and innovation. Examining everything from campus accommodation processes, to architecture, to popular films about college life, Dolmage argues that disability is central to higher education, and that building more inclusive schools allows better education for all.