A year or so ago (maybe longer) I wrote a few posts explaining a few disability terms.  I called it my disability glossary.  I did intend to expand it to cover other terms but as often happens life got in the way and I didn’t.  Last week someone mentioned my having posted about ableism on facebook and wanted me to define what it was. I struggled a bit when put on the spot in person but said it was basically “like racism but for disability.” This is my attempt at a better definition

Ableism is sometimes called disablism.  The two terms are basically interchangable – the difference in my opinion is one of models of disability. Disablism is more of a social model term and ableism is a medical model term. (I have definitions of the two models here). Having written that I realise that the fact I’m a proponent on the social model of disability but prefer the term ableism probably doesn’t make sense.

Ableism is based on the assumption that it is better to be non disabled (what has previously been referred to as able-bodied) than to be disabled.  It’s discrimination based on ability. Simply put it’s discriminating against me or another disabled person because we have disabilities.

It might be something said (the person who asked me to define ableism was referring to a status about ableist comments). For example

  • “oh I wouldn’t have noticed that you don’t when you’re normal”
  • “[our disabled toilet] is full of cleaning stuff because it isn’t needed by disabled people often.”
  • “all wheelchair users are lazy”

It might be in the way I’m treated

  • ignoring me in the queue at the pub and serving two people behind me
  • having to phone to book something because wheelchair tickets are only available by phone and then constantly playing a “you should do this online” message as I hold.
  • made to sit separately from my friends because you can’t accommodate my wheelchair in the regular seating.

Ableism can also come in because of assumptions about what disability is.

  • Finding out on Monday morning a group of friends went out at the weekend and didn’t ask me because they assumed I wouldn’t be able to join in.
  • The question “how many times a day do you have carers visit you?” rather than asking “do you need carers?”
  • Grabbing my wheelchair and moving me where you think I want to go rather than asking if I need a hand.

Ableism is often done thoughtlessly.  In many ways that’s easy to deal with. Point it out and if it was truly thoughtless it’s often quickly resolved.

But all too often it’s done to shock or to get a laugh.  Comedians are pretty bad at that.

Thoughtless or deliberate ableism is wrong and it’s painful to experience.


2 thoughts on “Ableism”

  1. ….and me assuming you would be going to para-olympic events with disabled friends. Why should I assume that your friends would be disabled? My view is that every person is unique and finds some things easy and some things difficult and therefore all of us want to be treated with honour, respect, patience, kindness and self-control. Oh yes and forgiveness when we don’t treat someone with the above.

  2. Wow, yes. Sobering to read, as I assume you have encountered examples like these often. Assumptions can be painful. They are hard to articulate, and often when we mention it, we are made to feel foolish – ‘what are you making such a fuss about that for, it is only a small thing…’

    But – bless him – my husband also understands that it is the accumulation of small things which becomes so disheartening. I think, sometimes, we should just be a little less polite, but that too, is hard work.

    I went out to a restaurant with family on a busy Friday night, and was told we would be half an hour waiting for a suitable table. Then I pointed at a free bench table, and they asked, ‘Can you sit there?’ Yes, of course, I replied, and we were promptly seated. Perhaps they thought the table was already in use by a bunch of invisible Smurfs, or something. xxxx 🙂

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