PERSPECTIVES | Ableism is everywhere

Navigator Prescpectives logoGrey INCLUDEnyc LogoBlue Line

June 2018

"Ableism is a set of beliefs or practices that devalue and discriminate against people with physical, intellectual, or psychiatric disabilities and often rests on the assumption that disabled people need to be ‘fixed’ in one form or the other,” writes Leah Smith in her blog for the Center for Disability Rights. Her theory is that ableism is rooted in the medical model of disability which is based on the idea that something is ‘wrong’ with a person that needs to be ‘fixed.’

“Society classifies people with disabilities like me as abnormal simply because our bodies do not conform...These views are so pervasive that they sometimes affect how people with disabilities view themselves, as was my own experience,” Edward Friedman from Roosevelt House’s blog writes. “Disability should be reframed as one of many human variations — as ‘normal’ as having blonde hair or brown eyes.”

Ableism is often rooted in “unconscious or thoughtless assumptions and actions” in how others relate to people with disabilities, including thinking people with disabilities aren’t capable, that they are ‘brave’ because of their struggle, or that they are singularly defined by their disability. Unfortunately, these notions are also commonly reinforced by the public imagery of people with disabilities that we see.

Language also plays an important role in reinforcing ableism. “Many disability rights activists are pushing people to change the way they talk to fight disability stigma, a form of discrimination aimed at disabled people.” These activists are fans of using person-first language.

Some self-advocates, however, consider person-first language as ableist. “You will try to say that a disability does not define me. How do you know it doesn’t? I define myself and my disability does define me. You are being ableist by telling me how I should feel about being Disabled,” asserts Amy Sequenzia in Ollibean.

Given its pervasiveness in our culture, eliminating ableism may feel challenging, but it is fundamentally simple: “The best way to de-root ableism in our everyday lives, is to ensure that there’s always a seat at the table for those who are like you and those who are not, but also checking ourselves on how we treat people with disabilities once they are at the table,” Smith continues. “As simple as this sounds, de-rooting ableism is often as simple as just treating disabled people like you would anyone else.”