What is Ableism and Why It’s Not Okay
Historically, our world wasn’t designed with the consideration of disabilities in mind, this has led to an inherent “ableist” nature ingrained into our environment. Collectively, we can help our communities recognise the shift in perspective required for true inclusivity.
Ableism and disablism both refer to the discrimination of and prejudice against individuals with disabilities. It stems from the belief that people with disabilities are inferior to those without disabilities. This can, and has, led to both blatant and subtle systemic marginalisation, exclusion, and unequal treatment of people with disabilities.
Fundamentally, ableism perpetuates the idea that people with disabilities need to be ‘fixed’. It classifies them into groups as people ‘less than’ and defines them by their disability. Let’s dive deeper into the impact ableism has on people with disabilities, the harmful stereotypes, generalisations and challenges they face in various aspects of life such as in education, employment, and social interactions.
What is ableism?
Ableism is a form of discrimination or prejudice against individuals with disabilities. It highlights how “able-bodied” people are generally favoured in society. When we create social spaces, design buildings, build educational material and organise events without keeping disabilities in mind, this is called “ableism”.
We like to think we’ve come a long way in addressing our attitudes towards inclusivity and marginalised communities, however two of the biggest “isms” in society are still largely overlooked: ableism and disablism.
What are the types of ableism?
Over the last few decades we’ve seen accelerations in many aspects of our lives; science and technology, health and wellbeing, mindsets and attitudes are all advancing at an increased rate and, we like to think, for the better of everyone. However, with every advancement comes a new challenge, a new way of thinking and adjustments have to be made at record pace to accommodate them. Ableism and disablism are concepts that have been around since the beginning of time, but only recently being labelled and recognised for what they are.
The difference between ableism and disablism:
- Ableism emphasises discrimination in favour of non-disabled people.
- Disablism emphasises discrimination against disabled people. This is the general belief that people with disability are inferior to those without disability.
These forms of discrimination often manifest subtly and covertly, making their identification and resolution difficult to address. Once we grasp the significance behind ableism and disablism we can start to recognise the deep-rooted nature of these practices within all facets of our lives. They are present in the way we talk, in the media, in schools, workplaces and even our homes. Frequently appearing on systemic levels, they are not always recognised as discrimination.
What are examples of ableism?
Ableism can manifest in various forms, often which are subtle and ingrained within societal norms. Just a few of the more obvious examples of ableism include:
- Stereotyping – assuming that all people with disabilities share the same limitations or characteristics.
- Inaccessible spaces – designing public spaces, buildings or online platforms that are not accessible to people with sensory, mobility or cognitive disabilities.
- Segregation – Isolating people with disabilities from those without disabilities. Such as in schools, the workplace and social events.
- Lack of representation – excluding people with disabilities from mainstream media, art, stories or in positions of authority or power.
- Microaggressions – Making subtle and often unintentional comments or actions that marginalise or belittle those with disabilities.
- Employment discrimination – Not including people with disabilities in the workforce or offering equal opportunities based on assumptions about their capabilities.
- Judgement – Assuming that people with disabilities are incapable or less competent in various aspects of life such as decision making, learning or being independent.
What does ableism look like?
We’ve already mentioned some of the more obvious examples of ableism, yet there are circumstances where many of us may not recognise that ableism is present. It’s important to understand the subtleties to which we incorporate ableism in our everyday lives, so we can spot it and address it. This could include circumstances such as:
- Talking to someone with a disability in a derogatory way or like a child.
- Talking about someone with a disability in their presence and not to them.
- Creating media without audio descriptions or closed captioning.
- Someone without a disability using the accessible bathroom or parking spot.
- Perceiving someone with a disability as tragic or inspirational.
- Considering inaccessible buildings for event spaces that would exclude participants.
How can we be more inclusive?
We can all become better allies for people living with disabilities. It requires awareness, education, and a commitment to creating inclusive environments that value and respect the diversity of all individuals, regardless of their abilities.
We can make changes on both a systemic and societal level to promote disability inclusion, accessibility, and equal opportunities. The best way we can do this is by designing and implementing systems and policies, environments, products and experiences in collaboration with people living with disabilities. It’s important to have their perspective play a part in the design concept phase.
Awareness and education
You may have noticed some resistance towards the progressive nature our society is evolving into. Many of us worry about unintentionally saying the wrong thing or forgetting to acknowledge the new buzzwords that have come to light, such as social justice, LGBTQ+, and inclusion.
This can perpetuate fear and resistance to change. However, we are all engaged in an ongoing learning process, and if we get it wrong on occasion, what truly matters is we have the opportunity to learn and improve with each experience. Empathy and understanding is key to encouraging others to embrace this stance.
People living with disabilities are often referred to in ways that are disempowering, discriminatory, degrading or offensive. The words we use, and the language these words make up, shape so many of our attitudes and perceptions with the people we encounter. One way you can be more inclusive is learning more about your use of language. For this reason, Maple Community Services has put together an Ultimate Guide To Inclusive Language For Disabilities.
Commitment and respect
It’s important to remember that embracing a more inclusive society offers advantages to everyone. Not only does it mean valuing a diverse range of knowledge and experience, but also recognising the uncertainty of our future: Disability represents the world’s largest minority group, one that any of us could potentially become a member of at any point along life’s journey.
Maple Services support individuals with disabilities and help them to achieve their goals and journey towards a better and happy life.