40 million Americans live with a disability.
While this statistic spans all demographics, people with disabilities are most often older adults.
People with disabilities can struggle in various aspects of life, but one thing that can make things worse is the stigma of ableism.
You may have heard of racism and sexism, but what is ableism?
Ableism is the discrimination against disabled individuals in favor of people who are not disabled. Non-disabled individuals are often referred to as “abled.”
Disabled individuals can span from people in wheelchairs to those suffering from severe depression.
Like other forms of discrimination, ableism has woven itself deeply into our society. It’s so much so that we may not even notice it.
In this article, we’ll talk about common forms of ableism, and how we can use awareness to fight against them.
The way we speak can have significant impacts on the ways we think about people and situations. And as many forms of discrimination have leaked into our language, so has abled language.
What is abled language, you might ask? Well, it is using slurs against disabled people. But as ableism as a full-on concept is relatively new, we are just now recognizing, and putting a stop to, language that may be offensive.
For example, the word “retarded” was once thought to be an acceptable medical term to describe someone who was mentally disabled. Now, we recognize the inherent ableism in it.
Other words with ableist roots include “moron” and “idiot,” both of which were, at one time, used to describe different “levels” of mental disability.
In speaking of physical disability, the word “crippled” or referring to someone as a “cripple” is severely outdated.
Calling People Autistic as a Joke
The Internet has developed some great memes and connected us to one another. However, many trolls and people looking for a rise out of one another often call people who don’t get jokes autistic. This is in reference to the fact that often people with autism have difficulty recognizing social cues, including humor.
This is a highly offensive practice, and should definitely be phased out. If you see anyone using the word autistic to make fun of someone, you should step in immediately and let them know it’s not appropriate.
While the person may balk and make fun of you, at least you’ve planted a seed in their head.
The Americans with Disabilities Act have ruled that all spaces must be disability friendly. However, there are many caveats and ways around this, so some people still cannot access shops or public areas.
Making a store or place of business wheelchair friendly can take some serious dedication, but it is important. Additionally, if you have someone take a job with you who uses a wheelchair, they must be able to navigate the office.
National Ramp states that you can purchase ramps that can be used indoors and outdoors to make almost all spaces accessible. In today’s world, there is no excuse for not at least having a ramp on the front of a public building.
You may believe that if you have a ramp or your office is wheelchair friendly, you’re accessible. Or, you may even believe that if you have an event where people in wheelchairs have attended that you’re accessible and all people with disabilities can access your event or events.
This is not the case.
People in wheelchairs are not the only types of disabled individuals. You will also need to consider making arrangements for people who cannot walk long distances or who are unable to access public transportation.
Not everyone who walks without a mobility device is fully able-bodied. In fact, many people suffer from arthritis and other illnesses that make it difficult to walk long distances, but they prefer not to use a wheelchair.
You’ll need to make concessions for everyone who wishes to attend your event or location.
Stop Making Disabled People “Inspiration Porn”
This is a big one that most people are guilty of at one time or another. Often, people will share viral videos of someone keeping in amazing shape despite being in a wheelchair or “beating” their cancer and becoming a “hero.”
A disability is not something to overcome. It is something that people live with.
People with disabilities do not exist to make you feel better about your life and what you have.
Individuals with disabilities are just that: individuals. They live their own lives and have their own hobbies. They are not there for you to comment on their bravery or draw inspiration from.
And remember, if someone you know who is disabled ever expresses frustration with their disability, they aren’t being “negative.” They’re being real. And sometimes real life isn’t fun, and they shouldn’t be expected to be ever cheerful.
What is Ableism?
Hopefully, this post has given you a glimpse into the answer to the question, “What is ableism.”
This is a complex topic that can’t just be answered in a few thousand words. We suggest that if you’re really interested in breaking down barriers that you do some research of your own and find out how to get involved to combat ableism.
As elderly people are more likely to be disabled, we suggest you have a look at how you can help make your home safe and accessible for an elderly relative or someone you care for.