Ableism in Every Day Life (updated)

This piece was first published on Quora in response to the question, “What are some examples of ableism in everyday life?.

I’ve updated it a bit so am reposting.

Language and Rhetoric

Language and thinking are reciprocal in that language is both an expression of  how we perceive the world as well as shapes how we perceive the world.  One of the easiest ways to begin combatting ableism is to correct our language.

Some examples:

  • The “R-word,  “Short bus” jokes,  calling persons with political differences blind or crippled” in their views are ways we associate ignorance or difference of opinion with disability.  I am personally guilty of using words like idiot or moron to describe ignorance. While they do not have the more recent use as retard for referring to  intellectual disability, they are are also abelist, and I am trying to remove them from my vocabulary. It’s difficult I know, but I think we can all grow in this respect.
  • The use of hyperbole to describe mental disorders and physical disabilities.  Comparing disability to fatal illness, as tragedy, turns people into objects of pity, or vehicles for feeling “inspired.”   Example: both media and personal narratives that uses phrases  such as “trapped” “locked” “imprisoned”  “tragedy” “lost” and “non living.”

Victim Blaming

Personal experience: My son with aspergers was attacked in school.  He had no part whatever in the altercation. No one was punished. It was suggested if my son had counseling to learn better social skills, the students would like him more. This is a child who described as a sweetheart by his teachers and often explained confusing concepts/tutored his peers.

There was a similar incident in the news of late, parents saying a child with aspergers somehow deserved to be bullied because he is “annoying.”

Lack of Access and Representation of disabled persons

The treatment of persons as a side show, as inspiration, as feel good stories,
is sometimes called inspiration porn because it objectifies.

Lack of physical access and also lack of access in terms of representation and the silencing of opinion/input on decisions directly affect everyday life , opportunity and available resources.

Lack of access and representation includes:

  • Making public areas unwelcome  because of reactions example: not respecting the personal boundaries of persons in wheelchairs
  • Allowing ableist narratives  with no alternative view or accountability for statements made
  • Denying persons decision making  in their own lives
  • Refusing to give the level of respect due to a person
  • Denying life saving medical treatments
  • Ignoring lack of representation in decision making civically example: government commitees, research and charitable organizations who do not seek the council of who they represent
  • Restricting physical access examples: road “improvements” that remove lights and crossings the blind rely on for safety and independence,  job interviews in buildings with no ramps

Popular Media

1. The fetishization and misrepresentation of mental DISORDERS, and PHYSICAL disability IN ENTERTAINMENT

Common Tropes Include:

*spiritual or magical powers
*dangerous mentally ill
*bitter crip
*tragic but oh so inspiring
*longing to be “normal”/fixed
*physical disability as merely psychological
*child like, the loveable simpleton

Examples are: Touch, BBC Sherlock, Hannibal, Dr. Who, most crime shows such as Criminal Minds, NCIS and CSI, every Steven King movie with an autistic type character, Rainman, HOUSE, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (especially hollywood version) to name but a few of a very long list.

Keep in mind, I like many of these examples. Remember,  problematic does NOT equal “You’re evil if you like these shows or actors.”
When disabled character are portrayed it is most often by a non disabled actor.

2. The news media

The news media is guilty of nearly every example mentioned from hyperbole and trope to lack of representation and unchallenged ableist narratives.

For more information:
What is Ableism? Five Things About Ableism You Should Know


3 thoughts on “Ableism in Every Day Life (updated)

  1. Simon Huggins says:

    It’s hard to know where to stop on a topic like this.
    A large proportion of language is specifically designed for ‘them and us’ purposes – it’ bewildering to know where to start. But we all have to be mindful of how we talk and the implicit segregation we unknowingly make – so this a great list of starting points – thanks, Amanda.
    nb. One to add to the list: “English = Eccentric & a Buffoonish genius or Evil and Slimy”. That’s me. Slimy Simey.

  2. amandasmills says:

    Hi Simon! I hope things are going well for you.
    I agree much language is meant to separate. Though personally I hadn’t noticed much against the English in everday, I have noticed the amount of villains in American cinema with English accents. Its quite the trope.

  3. kdub155 says:

    Hi, thanks for the read.
    It IS hard to know where to stop–I too have written many posts on ableism, I live w a physical disability, and I still don’t know the boundaries of this concept. Thank you for giving me further insight.

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