What is ableism?

Ever been told, “It’s all in your head,” or “Why can’t you just get on with it?” These are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to ableist remarks many people living with disabilities hear. These comments not only belittle and undermine individual experiences but also reflect a societal issue that has historically led to brutal treatment of people with disability, like eugenics and segregation.

So, what’s ableism? It’s the discrimination against people who live with disability, based on the belief that having a disability makes someone less worthy or in need of fixing. Ableism doesn’t just impact those with physical disabilities. People with mental or intellectual disabilities also experience ableism. This is why when we refer to people with disabilities in contrast to their non-disabled peers we should use the following terms:

  • Abled: a person who doesn’t have any form of disability
  • Able-bodied: a person without physical or mobility-related disabilities

Ableism is woven into our world, shaping everything from the design of our spaces to beauty standards and it often leaves people with disabilities sidelined. It can range from overt jokes about disability to subtle invasions of privacy, for example asking questions that are too personal about someone’s health or making assumptions about their quality of life.

But ableism doesn’t just harm those with disabilities; it impacts everyone. Our culture’s focus on productivity and neglect of self-care is rooted in ableist notions, valuing people’s worth based on their productivity and ignoring individual needs.

Here are some ways we can combat ableism:

  • Let disabled people lead the conversation. They know their needs best
  • Skip the unsolicited advice! They’ve heard it all before, it’s not helpful
  • Avoid ableist language. It alienates and excludes. Here’s an inclusive language guide for you to use
  • Learn about and respect language preferences, whether it’s identity-first or person-first
  • Move beyond pity or viewing disabled people as superheroes. It only perpetuates stereotypes.
  • Acknowledge your abled/able-bodied privilege.
  • Make accessibility a priority in both physical and online spaces. Check out resources like Vision Australia’s ‘Accessibility Toolkit for guidance.

Change begins with individual actions. By educating ourselves and adjusting our behaviours, we can work towards a society that values accessibility, care, and rest for everyone.

Want to know how to combat the ableist thoughts you may have? Try out this quiz created by ABC to test your levels of ableism.

Check out this video to learn more about ableism:

Living with Disability: Tips for Learning to Thrive, Not Just Survive in an Ableist World 
Community Support

Finding a community where you can be unapologetically yourself, surrounded by unconditional love, is invaluable. In a society that often accepts only parts of us, it’s essential to have a support network that affirms and validates you. If local connections are hard to come by, remember, that an expansive and welcoming online community exists, ready to embrace you.

Prioritise Self-Care

Your well-being should always take precedence. Engaging in self-care, especially when societal norms push productivity at the expense of health, is a radical form of self-preservation. Look after yourself, in all the ways that matter to you, to maintain your well-being.

Cultural Engagement

Dive into media that portrays disabled people authentically. Seek out TV shows, movies, music, and art created by or representing disabled individuals positively. Here are some TV shows and movies to get you started. If reading is more your thing, try some of these non-fiction books or young adult novels about disability.    

Here are some TV shows and movies to explore. If you’re an avid reader, delve into these non-fiction and young adult books that reflect the disabled experience.

A Crucial Reminder

Always remember: you’re enough, just as you are. Despite the ableist narratives society might push on you, know your worth and beauty. You don’t have to conform to anyone’s standards but your own.

Need someone to talk to? Free, confidential support is available.

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