Intro to Ableism

“It’s all in your head” 

“Why can’t you just study/work?” 

“This stuff is made up” 

“It could be worse” 

“Think about all the things you should be grateful for” 

All things that have actually been said to me in response to my disability and I’m just scratching the surface. These are examples of ableist remarks that many able-bodied people make towards disabled people. On an individual scale, ableism is a form of victim-blaming and makes the disabled person feel less worthy. On a societal scale, ableism is a form of violence that has in the past led to eugenics and segregation.  

So what is ableism? Ableism in its simplest form is the discrimination of people who are not able-bodied. It thrives on the assumption that disabled bodies are inferior and less worthy than abled bodies. Ableism believes that disabled people need to be ‘fixed’ and are ‘incomplete.’

Ableism can be experienced by people who have physical disabilities, mental or intellectual disabilities and people who may not have a disability, but face difficulties in an ableist world. So ableism is complex and manifests in daily experiences in many different ways, depending on your disability. 

Ableism is everywhere, after all, the world was designed by and for able-bodied people. From the inaccessible design of spaces, both physical and digital, to standards of beauty, disabled people are marginalised and excluded in so many ways. Ableism can be obvious like the frequent jokes people make about disabilities or it can be more subtle like when people ask disabled people invasive questions about their disability or history.    

As mentioned earlier, ableism hurts people who are not disabled as well. The prioritisation of productivity and the lack of self-care embedded in our culture all find roots in ableism. Ableism measures everyone’s worth on how productive they are and dismisses people’s individual needs. A world without ableism prioritises care, accessibility and rest. Change needs to be systemic to make a large scale difference, but there are steps that we can take as individuals to stop the perpetuation of ableism in our own lives.    


Ways to Make the World Less Ableist

Woman in wheelchair passing a football.

AFL Practice. Image from: https://www.sports.org.au/

Center Disabled People and their voices 

Let disabled people speak for themselves. Oftentimes disabled people are spoken over and abled-bodied people assume they know what is best for them. Disabled people know what is best for them. Let them speak and listen.   

Don’t offer ‘advice’

Trust me, we’ve heard it all before. We don’t need to be saved.

Don’t use ableist language

So many words that are used as insults are ableist. Here’s a list of ableist words and phrases used in everyday speech to eliminate from your vocabulary.

Learn about Identity-First Vs Person-First Language 

Describing someone using identity-first language puts their disability first, often using it as an adjective (for example, ‘disabled person’). Using person-first language separates the person from their disability (for example, ‘a person with a disability’). In this blog, I have used identity-first language because that is my preference, but sometimes a disabled person will have a different preference; listen and learn about their individual preference. Want to learn more? Here is an article detailing the differences between the two. 

We’re not here for pity or your inspiration 

Stop pitying people with disabilities – it furthers the narrative that people with disabilities are inferior. Using disabled people as inspiration is just as bad – living in an ableist society is awful and hard, but don’t use us as a way to make yourself feel better.

Check your privilege

Here’s a great article on able-bodied privilege.

Prioritise accessibility

Make sure the spaces that you inhabit, whether that be physical or online, are as accessible as possible. This Accessibility Toolkit from Vision Australia is a good place to start.


Ways to Survive in an Ableist World as a Disabled Person

A group of people hugging each other from the back

Community 

Having people you can be fully yourself around and loved unconditionally is so important. In a world where people only want parts of you or a different you, having people to affirm and validate your needs is crucial. If you, like I, struggle to find these people in person, there is a whole online community waiting out there for you. 

Self-care 

Doing as much as you can for yourself. Your wellbeing is your number one priority – do whatever you can do to take care of yourself.

Engage 

Watch TV and movies with good representation of disabled people. Listen to music from disabled artists. Immerse yourself in art that respects you. Here’s a short list to get you started.  

A Reminder

Remind yourself that you are worthy of love, light and abundance. Don’t let the world erode that understanding. 

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