An Introduction to Ableism

We’ve mostly all heard of sexism and racism and know why these things are a problem. Yet, when we talk about discrimination, ableism is often overlooked. So, I thought I’d break down ableism with some examples. ;Th post is just a basic introduction to what is a very complex and nuoanced topic.

Ableism: A Definition

Ableism is intentional or unintentional discrimination against disabled people, including expressing hate against disabled people, the denial of accessibility and treating disabled people in a prejudiced manner.

There are other words that are used to mean the same thing as ableism including: disablism and disability discrimination. What words people use will likely depend on what words they’ve heard of and what their language preferences are.

General Examples of Ableism

Let’s look at some real world examples, to give you a sense of what ableism really is. It’s all very well and good having a definition, but sometimes people find it hard to understand how it relates to the world and themselves.

Buildings that are not accessible, for example, requiring a person to travel up steps and not having an available ramp or lift is inaccessible to someone in a wheelchair. Similarly, a room where all the furniture, the walls, the floor and the door, are all the same colour, is not very accessible to someone with a visual impairment.

Offering services that exclude disabled people, for example, an education institution that will not provide class materials in accessible formats or a company that has a recruitment process that is inaccessible to disabled candidates or puts them at a disadvantage.

Invisibly disabled people are often questioned about whether they’re actually disabled, on the basis of the fact that their disability is not obvious or visible. These practises suggests doubt as to whether the person is being honest.

As a blind person, when out alone, people frequently come up to me and grab hold of me in an attempt to drag me along or try to insist that I shouldn’t be out alone. Here there’s an assumption made that I am not capable of being out alone, because I’m blind. Often, there’s a violation of personal space and freedom, when people decide that grabbing hold of me is the best option.

In all of the above examples accessibiofy is not being provided either intDisnally or unintentionally. In my final example about myow not travel experiences, what’s happening is i’m being assumed to be not capable. I am being denied the rightt o make choices and my personal space is being invaded. As much as I talk about myow ns pecific experiences in this last one, this and similar things happen a great deal to blind people.

Online Examples of Ableism

People that elect not to put ALT text on their images and do not provide subtitles or transcripts for their videos, are discriminating against blind and deaf people. Another example of this, is some forms that use a system where you have to enter some text to verify against spam, use a system where you have to be able to see the text an image, often one that’s not very clear. Thi sn very accessible to visually impaired people and possibly dyslexic people.

You can argue that many times, people aren’t aware of the inaccessibility of things. Sometimes this is true and I have heard many a story of disabled people making the issue known and the person rectifying it. This is still ableism even if it is unintentional.

But let me give you an example of something that is very intentionally ableist online. Discord, a company that claims to aim to build communities, continually advise blind people complaining about accessibility, that accessibility is a “quality of life” issue. If you look online for accessibility information for Discord, you’ll quickly run in to lots of visually impaired people complaining that they’ve contacted Discord, who had responded saying that they thought accessibility was not an essential feature. It took loads of blind people complaining for them to agree that if enough people up voted a support request for it to be resolved, they’d consider it. However, some people have been finding creating an account to do that difficult from an accessibility point of view. This is not only highly ableist, but also very intentional. I’ve seen examples of blind software developers making suggestions as to how it could be addressed very easily. I also know of newer and smaller apps that still manage to be accessible, despite blind people not being their main target audience.

Further Reading

This is a fairly basic introduction to ableism, mainly intended to give people a taste of what people are talking about when they use the term. I’m conscious that I’m probably going to be using the term a lot, so I wanted to have covered it briefly, because it’s important people know what it is.

However, ableism can be a deep and complicated subject. It’s a subject I recommend you familiarise yourself with, so here are a few links to start you off.

Firstly, Blogging Against Disablism Day, an annual day where bloggers all post something related to disablism, run by a UK blogger whose online name is The Goldfish. If you go through the archives you’ll find loads of great posts.

Secondly, a piece that was actually created for Blogging Against Disablism Day, a discussion of how ableism is present in all other forms of discriminations. Also, there’s some great guidance in this piece about researching ableism.

Finally, Feminists with Disabilities have an informative article about ableism, which I used a great deal while writing this.

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