I came across the word ableism a few months ago, and it has taken me a while to get my head around what it means. I initially thought it referred to enabling people with disabilities to participate, communicate, and access facilities/transport etc.; to help them be able to do things... But in fact it has the opposite meaning.
So What is Ableism?
Ableism – are the practices and dominant attitudes in society that devalue and limit the potential of persons with developmental, emotional, physical or psychiatric disabilities.disabilities. These attitudes and practices are discriminatory.
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.
Here are some examples of ableism:
- Lack of access to a building. For example, no ramps for people in a wheelchair to access the front door of a building, or access is only through the back door.
- Lack of assistive technologies during conferences etc.
- Not having events accessible to public transport, as many people with disabilities cannot drive.
- Blaming the person with a disability about being victimised e.g. they were annoying so they deserved the bullying.
- Denying a person's decision making capabilities for their own life (forced sterilization, decision making in terms of housing, etc).
- Not talking to a person with a disability but instead talking to the able-bodied person with them.
- Refusing to give the level of respect due to a person.
- Using derogatory labels e.g. retard, psycho.
- The misrepresentative of disabilities in the popular media and in the news.
- Using people with disabilities as inspirational porn.
- Assuming that people with disabilities cannot be autonomous or independent.
- Able-bodied people using disabled parking or toilets.
- Able-bodied people assuming that disabilities are always physical.
This comic explains it well. The white coats are making decisions on behalf of the people with disabilities but they are not asking them what they want.
Ableism is rife in our society. Though headway has been made, a lot more needs to be done. Attitudes towards people with disabilities, and systemic changes are necessary within government and education. One way is to start from the beginning of life, by having all types of children together in playgroups and then educated with each other. No segregation whatsoever. Inclusive education with teachers who are fully on board, will show the upcoming generations that people with disabilities are just like them, except they could need some modifications or assistance at times. And if there are needs, ask the person what they would like, and then accommodate them, so the person with the disability can participate at the same level alongside their able-bodied peers.
So how do we stop ableism now?
- Read articles from well-known disabled writers.
- Research the general opinions of the disability community.
- Think about your own attitudes and actions.
- Treat disabled strangers with the same common courtesy you'd extend to anyone.
- See the whole person not just their disability.
- Listen when disabled people when they talk about their disabilities.
- Avoid assumptions.
- Recognize that their abilities may vary from day to day.
- Ask about their needs as relevant.
- Respect their problems and emotions, visible or not.
- Treat their disability as natural.
As a society we must extinguish ableism.