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The Ableism Lens

Content Warning, Use of ableist language, discussion about ableism.

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The first known use of the term ableism was in 1981 and has been increasing in usage ever since. It is important to note that the increased usage is due to the tireless efforts of advocates and activists bringing awareness to the constant oppression that people with disabilities encounter.  Ableism is the discrimination and bias against people with disabilities. It further describes how certain ideals and attributes are valued or not valued about people with disabilities. One of the aspects about ableism refers to beliefs about any person who does not meet societal norms of ability, whether they have a disability or not (Wolbring, 2008; Harpur, 2009). However, the term ableism is typically used in the context of disabilities. Other aspects of ableism goes beyond just physical or mental ability, and includes barriers such as financial, physical design of spaces, communication, technological, policies, and transportation.


There are different types of ableism in the community such as Audism which is the discrimination and barriers of people who are d/Deaf, Hard of Hearing, or have a degree of hearing loss, such as having no close captions or interpreter available. Sanism/Mentalism is the discrimination and barriers for people with mental health disabilities such as being regarded as violent. And Linguicism which is the discrimination against the use of specific language and characteristics of speech, including first language, accent, size of vocabulary (whether the speaker uses complex and varied words), modality, and syntax. An example of linguicism is when someone stutters or has apraxia. The different types of ableism often lead to disability being othered and something to be overcome.


There is another word used in the disability community to describe the discrimination of people with disabilities, which is Disableism and is more popularly known in other parts of the world other than United States of America and Canada. Disableism is not synonymous with ableism as disableism describes negative beliefs and discrimination based on disability, focusing on the societal oppression faced by people with disabilities. Miller et al. (2004) define disablism as “discriminatory, oppressive, or abusive behavior arising from the belief that disabled people are inferior to others”. Whereas, ableism does not focus solely on the social model of discrimination.


So now you have a bit of history about ableism, but what does it mean to be ableist? Being ableist is usually not an intentional act, and often normalized by society. It comes in many different forms such as using ableist language (crazy, stupid, and other derogatory terms), not asking for consent before touching someone, spreading or sharing jokes, memes, or inspirational quotes/videos that have to do with disabilities, not considering the person’s accessibility needs when inviting them, refusing accessibility needs, assuming accessibility needs, infantilization, forcing people with disabilities to disclose their disability, microagressions, and this is just the tip of the iceberg.


The biggest gesture that anyone can do to avoid being ableist is to actively listen to people with disabilities, try to unlearn ableism through joining groups, researching, and actively do better when someone states what you are doing is ableist. It is important to recognize the oppression in the disability community and to understand that change is difficult but not impossible. It requires non-disabled people to actively makes those changes by being mindful of their privilege and their behaviour towards people with disabilities.


For more information about ableism please check out these links below:

Defining Disability: Understandings of and Attitudes Towards Ableism and Disability Link: https://dsq-sds.org/article/view/5061/4545


Stop Ableism Link: http://www.stopableism.org/p/what-is-ableism.html


6 Common Forms of Ableism We Need to Eliminate Immediately Link: https://everydayfeminism.com/2015/08/6-common-forms-of-ableism/