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Ableism: Home

What is Ableism?

Ableism is a societal belief that is deep rooted and often misunderstood. Disablism is discrimination against disabled people (Collins Dictionary, 2018) and, as we have seen in the past discrimination of any form can cross the line to hate. Ableism on the other hand, simply views people with disabilities as a diminished state of being human (Campbell, 44) which can be worse as it ranks people with disabilities as dependent, invisible, or hidden.

Ableism is the conscious and unconscious attitude, and beliefs, that certain abilities (such as cognition, competitiveness, or speed, or having an able body and mind) are preferred and essential in society. Therefore, people with disabilities are perceived as inferior or less valuable. Ableism can take the form of ideas, assumptions, stereotypes, attitudes and practices, physical barriers in the environment or larger scale oppression. Adapted from Wolbring, 2008



History of Ableism

The term ableism evolved from the Disabled People's rights movements in the United States and Britain during the 1960s and 1970s. Ableism questioned and highlighted the prejudice and discrimination persons experience whose body structure and ability functioning was labeled as “impaired” as sub species-typical (Wolbring, 2008). An ableist society is said to be one that treats non-disabled individuals as the standard of ‘normal living’ which results in public and private places and services, education and social work that are built to serve ‘standard’ people, thereby inherently excluding those with various disabilities (Stop Ableism, 2018). Ableism is one of the most societally entrenched and accepted ‘isms’ and it exists in many forms where other ‘isms' like racism, sexism and heterosexism have been spurned by society.

Historically, people with disabilities or who were otherwise different from society’s typical were thought of as cursed by witchcraft, possessed by demons, or punished by God for wrongdoing by themselves or their parents. Through history, societies evolved from killing their deformed or disabled young to institutionalizing those who could not be cured or rehabilitated. The Disabled People’s Movement has labeled the deficit point of view against normality as the ‘medical model’ or ‘individual model’, which is the assessments of impairments is viewed as what one cannot do, instead of what one can do (Attitudes2disability, 2007). 

The medical model sees disabled people as the problem and believes they need to be adapted to fit in the world as it is (Stop Ableism, 2018). The emphasis is on dependence, and that is reinforced by the stereotypes of disability that bring out pity, fear, and patronizing attitudes. The drive and power to change disabled people seem to lie with the medical and associated professions, with their talk of cures, normalization, and science (Attitudes2disability, 2007).  Often people with disabilities have their lives run by these professionals as their decisions affect where people with disabilities go to school; what support they get; where they live; what benefits they are entitled to; whether they can work; and even, at times, whether they are born at all, or allowed to have children themselves (Stop Ableism, 2018).

In addition, the built environment limits people with disabilities as they have been built with ‘standard’ people in mind. Medical model thinking would believe these problems are due to disabled person’s lack of rehabilitation, while the Disability Movement perceives these difficulties as the barriers that disable them and curtail their life chances (Attitudes2disability, 2007). For, if the environments were built to include all abilities, there would be no need for labels like disabled.


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