You may have heard people talk about Ableism. I often talk about stigma and discrimination but haven’t used the term itself but it is the term. Like sexism, ageism and racism, ableism is a form of discrimination against disabled people by those who are not.

What is Ableism


type of discrimination in which able-bodied individuals are viewed as normal and superior to those with a disability, resulting in prejudice toward the latter.

Discrimination against disabled persons occurs in countries worldwide and may be reflected in individual, societal, and institutional attitudes and norms and in the arrangement or dynamics of certain environments. Indeed, interpretations of ableism are based on perspectives of what constitutes normal ability, which often gives shape to beliefs and norms and to physical and social environments. As a result, those affected by physical, mental, or emotional impairments tend to be in the minority and may be treated differently from their normal peers. Disabled persons may experience labeling, altered expectations, and discrimination in the context of eugenics. Those factors can cause disabled persons to view ableism, rather than their impairments, as their primary barrier to community participation. Britannica


…analogous to racism, sexism or ageism, [and] sees persons with disabilities as being less worthy of respect and consideration, less able to contribute and participate, or of less inherent value than others. Ableism may be conscious or unconscious, and may be embedded in institutions, systems or the broader culture of a society. It can limit the opportunities of persons with disabilities and reduce their inclusion in the life of their communities Ontario Human Rights Commission

It can be broadly in categories of Physical, Mental, and Cultural


Stereotypes that persist

“People with mental illnesses are more prone to violent behaviour.” When in fact the level of violence with mental illnesses is equivalent to the general population.

Due to various negative stereotypes, people may be afraid to disclose their disability. “They may worry about being labelled, experiencing negative attitudes from others, losing their jobs or housing, or experiencing unequal treatment in services after disclosing a mental health issue or addiction. Fear of discrimination can also result in people not seeking support for a mental health issue or addiction. Negative attitudes, stereotyping and stigma can also lead to harassment towards people with psychosocial disabilities in the form of negative comments, social isolation and unwanted conduct (including mental health profiling) from employers, landlords, co-workers or service providers. ” Ontario Human Rights Commission


‘Crazy’, ‘Lame’, ‘Insane’, ‘retarded’. So often words are used flippantly. Carelessly. But it isn’t so flippant to someone it effects. And it can be used rather sharp and directly. I once heard someone who had Major Depressive Disorder in the workplace as ‘crazy’ and ‘insane’… not so cool then is it? Not when I heard it and was fighting depression myself and wouldn’t ever admit to it for years as a result of the stigma I knew existed. Nor would I seek treatment due to that stigma. So maybe words do have some power, eh?

“When a critique of language that makes reference to disability is not welcome, it is nearly inevitable that, as a disabled person, I am not welcome either,” Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg wrote in a 2013 Disability and Representation article. But beyond individual feelings, ableist language can contribute to a foundation of more systemic oppression of people with disabilities as a group.

“If a culture’s language is full of pejorative metaphors about a group of people,” Cohen-Rottenberg continued, that culture is more likely to view those individuals as less entitled to rights like “housing, employment, medical care, education, access, and inclusion as people in a more favored group.” Mic


The best example of a healthy person privilege is using a disabled parking space or handicapped bathroom stall… like they have the right to. Because they are used to all space being available to them then why not use spaces allocated to the disabled… just for a second, not like it matters, not like it isn’t literally taking an available space from someone who may need it. When space availability isn’t something disabled people have in abundance… there are limitations. If there are no ramps, that isn’t accessible as it should be is it? If we cannot take the stairs we must have an elevator… so if your public bathroom is downstairs and you have no elevator… that isn’t very accessible is it? So we have limitations on spaces we can use and places we can be. To use the allotted spaces for disabled people is abusing your privilege.

Assuming disabilities are all visible

Back to the disabled parking spots… how many disabled people have been yelled at or gotten nasty notes on their car because some healthy person Assumes they are not disabled enough to use a disabled parking stall? It is a lot more than you would think. It happens a Lot.

My best example was asking for accommodation at a workplace and being told I didn’t have a disability (fibromyalgia and chronic migraines) and therefore they wouldn’t accommodate me. I knew they meant I didn’t have a Visible Disability. All I wanted was an ergonomically adjusted office and better lighting. That’s all. Or maybe work flexibility… which they gave to others but never me… because not disabled enough I guess.

Assuming one has the right to ask questions

“So… why do you use that cane?” I get that one a lot. Because people feel like they have the right to ask. I have the right to give any random answer I want as a result.

Anyway, feeling like you have the right to know how or why someone is disabled is not cool. It is intrusive. Unless we mention it. Or want to talk about it. Expect sarcastic responses… because we are allowed to have Some fun with it the 100th time we get asked.

Inspiration porn

Disabled person does a normal thing.

WOW. OMG. The fact you can DO that and Be Disabled is SOOOooooo Inspirational to us all!!!!

Ah, what the what?


“At least it isn’t cancer.”

“A lot of people are worse off than you.”

“At least your not on fire.”

“At least your not dead or anything.”

You are invalidating and diminishing the experience of the person. And it is cruel.


“You’re looking for attention.”

“You’re abusing the system.”

“You’re faking it.”

“You’re just lazy.”

“You caused this yourself.”

“You’re not trying hard enough.”

“You must be doing something wrong to have ended up that way.”

“Clearly its because of your lifestyle.”

“Hey, just change your mindset and change your life! Just be more positive… blah blah”

“You’re just mentally weak”

“You’re exaggerating.”

Assuming someone who is disabled cannot speak for themselves or less competent

You either assume they are childlike and lesser intelligence.

Or you talk to their caregiver automatically instead of addressing them directly.

Or you treat them as if they are less able to do things for themselves.

If you can’t see the disability… it isn’t bad

Invisible disabilities are seen as less severe. Often more doubted. Because there is nothing to point to its severity… must not be as bad as they say. Just exaggerating.

With this comes the whole ‘oh you did a thing you must be better’ or ‘oh you smiled and laughed you must be faking’.

Putting less value on those that cannot work

Because they cannot work they are considered less valuable to society. And you see them as less valuable as a person. And besides so and so with a disability works, why can’t you be like them… productive?


Is a slightly different term:

The term ‘disablism’ 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” (p. 28). People with disabilities experience disablism when they are excluded from participating in society through various types of barriers, when they are viewed as objects of pity, or when they are exhorted to overcome their disability. Disablism can occur at different levels. Individual-level disablism involves personal negative beliefs that individuals have about people with disabilities. Institutional disablism refers to the development of societal structures or institutional practices that leads to the systematic exclusion of people with disabilities. This can lead to additional social and physical barriers for people with disabilities. Some have critiqued the term disablism for placing the focus on the person with the disability or disability itself, rather than the discriminator or the act of discrimination (Harpur, 2009). Nonetheless, disablism is the preferred term for disability-related discrimination among many disability advocates, and is the term of choice in Great Britain. While the terms ableism and disablism have slightly different meanings, both terms convey an understanding of the types of societal discrimination that people with disabilities experience based on negative views toward people with disabilities. (Science Direct- dead link)

That is the basic idea behind Ablism which we all have experienced in some form or another. There are many other examples out there. It is stigma. It is discrimination. It is casual. It direct. It is the public, medical field and institutions and workplaces. Ranging from mild to severe in impact on the lives of the disabled person.

See more

Mental illness: stigma thoughts
Self-imposed stigma- weak
When confronted with the lazy stigma

Buy Me a Coffee at

4 thoughts on “What is Ableism?

  1. Great post, Nikki. You’re right, ableism is alive and kicking and we’ve all experienced it in some way.

    You mentioned a few things I hate – At least it’s not cancer/could be worse etc. And why do people talk to the carer when the person is in a wheelchair? I was getting wheelchair assistance at an airport once and my Dad was asked if I needed to go to the bathroom before the flight.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah those two are bad. Talking to the carer of someone who is in a wheelchair or otherwise is insidious… it is implying the person doesn’t have the same mental capacity to communicate


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