Ableism is prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination against people with disabilities. It often occurs in the form of social and physical exclusion and segregation, and can take many forms including:
– Institutional – the establishment of norms and practices within an organization which limit opportunities for disabled people;
– Economic – denial of equal opportunities to work, education, financial aid, housing options available to non-disabled counterparts;
– Social – rejection from activities by friends/family/society that are made inaccessible by a person’s impairment(s), coupled with misrepresentations about the lives of those living with disability.
In some countries around the world these actions may be considered hate crimes and can carry legal sanctions if the person or people attacked by ableism are considered ‘protected’ under local anti-discrimination laws.
Ableism is born of a pervasive culture of fear and mistrust that causes otherwise capable individuals to treat people with disabilities as less than deserving of respect, support, inclusion, autonomy, justice and even love. The impact for those targeted by such actions can be profound: at worst leading to social isolation through loss of friends and family; at best becoming victims of microaggressions – small acts of humiliation in which messages are conveyed that devalue one’s worthiness to participate in society on an equal footing with others.
Such messages are harmful in that they may have lasting effects throughout a person’s life, adding to any other form of oppression that they may face. This is particularly the case for disabled children who are already more likely than their non-disabled peers to experience poor mental health outcomes, not least due to the higher expectations placed upon them by parents and teachers who believe that children can ‘overcome’ their disabilities if they try hard enough.
Most societies around the world lack social support structures for adults with childhood disabilities which results in greater rates of homelessness; violence; substance abuse; incarceration (imprisonment); physical and mental illness; early death; poverty; unemployment (lack of jobs); isolation (lack of friends/familysociety); sexual exploitation (not having access to sexual pleasure or relationships); and barriers in accessing education, health care and information (lack of rights/information). With the added threat of scapegoating by the media; social exclusion by neighbours; bullying at school; workplace discrimination; physical violence in public spaces; lack of adequate transportation options for those with mobility issues, disabled people are often rendered entirely powerless when trying to protect themselves against acts of ableism.
As such, it is important that education about ableism be made readily available in order to encourage an inclusive culture which forbids the propagation of discriminatory messages in any form. Such efforts will help foster a society where all people are seen as equally deserving of respect, support and opportunities no matter what their abilities or disabilities may be.