15 Ableism Examples

ableism examples and definition

Ableism is discrimination against people who are disabled. It includes discrimination against people with either physical or mental disabilities.

Ableism can occur at home, in the workplace, or in day to day life. It’s a harmful approach that sees the non-disabled person as the ideal, and something that everyone else as ‘less than’.

An example of ableism is when an education facility refuses to make accommodations for a disabled student.

Ableism Definition

Ableism is discrimination of any form against people who are disabled. This may be very overt or very subtle, but anything that has a negative impact on people because of their disability is considered ableist.

Many people have to make a conscious effort not to apply ableist ideals to the world, even if they intend to use inclusive language be and supportive.

There are common language problems as a result of ableism too. Many insults are based on slurs about disabled people; if you call something “lame,” you are (perhaps inadvertently) implying that people who limp or struggle to walk are undesirable and unwanted.

Ableism Examples

1. Denying someone a job because they are disabled.

2. Making jokes about a person’s physical or mental disability.

3. Accusing a person with a mental or learning disability of faking it.

4. Designing office spaces in ways that are inaccessible to people with disabilities.

5. Public spaces like sidewalks and libraries that are inaccessible to people with disabilities.

6. Support services such as phone lines that are inaccessible to people with disabilities, with no alternatives provided.

7. Schools with acceptance policies that have the effect of excluding people with disabilities.

8. The use of language in a derogatory or mocking way that refers to a disability.

9. Teachers who won’t differentiate their lessons to make them inclusive of all abilities.

10. Support workers who dismiss a person’s complaints of difficulties as whining.

11. Holding up a disabled person as an inspiration or hero when they did something perfectly normal.

12. Unfairly using resources reserved for people with disabilities, such as parking spaces.

13. Accusing disabled people of laziness without taking into account their disability.

14. Intentionally placing things out of reach of people with disabilities.

15. Making jokes that flippantly mock or marginalize people based on their disability.

Negative Impacts Of Ableism

Even people who do not think they are ableist may have preconceived notions about how disabled people can function and how good they will be at a task. This can lead to enormous amounts of discrimination, in the workplace, in education, and even in social settings.

Below are some examples of the negative impacts of ableism.

1. Poor Building Design

Negative Impact: Inability to access public spaces

A common form of ableism is poor building design. Buildings that do not have access for disabled people, or do not allow disabled people to fully engage with the facilities, are a particularly common issue.

This causes people with physical disabilities to be excluded from public spaces.

2. Workplace Discrimination

Negative Impact: Exclusion from the workplace and decreased economic opportunities.

Ableism is also common in the work world, with many employers consciously and subconsciously discriminating against disabled individuals because they believe they won’t be reliable or won’t be productive.

Workplaces might also not offer the physical accommodations that they should or protect their workers from discrimination or harassment.

This can lead people to make less money than they otherwise would, or force them out of the workforce altogether. This, in turn, restricts people from the dignity of work.

3. Educational Exclusion

Negative Impact: Lack of access to education, lower future prospects for work or learning.

Educational institutes sometimes fail to provide the tools that students need to learn efficiently.

Some schools – especially in the past – have tried to teach disabled students not to be disabled, and even imposed consequences for demonstrating examples of disabilities.

One key example here is dyslexia, which for a long time was not seen as a disability. Today, schools are working hard to make sure students with dyslexia have alternative ways to access information (rather than reading all the time!)

4. Ableist Language

Negative Impact: Emotional strain, promotion of stereotypes, feelings of exclusion.

Ableist language is unfortunately another common one even among people who do not think of themselves as ableist.

Understanding the origin of some of our negative terms and removing them from our vocabulary is an important step in tackling underlying perceptions about disabilities.

If we continue to use ableist language, we will continue to promote unjust stereotypes and a sense that people with disabilities are ‘less than’.

Positive vs Negative Ableism

Positive ableism is often apparent when the person thinks that the disabled individual needs saving or rescuing.

It is the less visible kind, but it can be as damaging as negative ableism or ambivalent ableism. If you feel that disabled people need to be coddled, treated like children, or patronized in order for them to understand something, you are applying positive or benevolent ableism.

This is often the hardest kind to understand because it comes from a place of good intentions. It isn’t always obviously harmful, like negative ableism is – but it still prevents disabled people from enjoying normal, fulfilling lives.

Negative ableism often results in outright hostility and a desire to deny disabled people opportunities that would otherwise be open to them.

It causes ridicule, dismissiveness, and lack of opportunities.

In the middle, we have ambivalent ableism which often combines these two behaviors, usually when the benevolent ableism is rejected.

The person being ableist might appear pleasant and warm while “rescuing” the disabled person from something, and then become aggressive and hostile if the disabled person is not grateful for the intervention.


Ableism is very present in today’s world, and although many people and organizations are taking steps to tackle this, it is an ongoing problem that individuals with disabilities constantly have to deal with. It leads to microaggressions, subtle discrimination, more overt discrimination, and even outright hostility.

Almost every person who deals with a disability will have faced forms of prejudice in their life, and this can have a negative impact on many different areas. Tackling this is a long process that requires commitment and dedication on all sides.

Website | + posts

This article was co-authored by Kamalpreet Gill Singh, PhD. Dr. Gill has a PhD in Sociology and has published academic articles in reputed international peer-reviewed journals. He holds a Master’s degree in Politics and International Relations and a Bachelor’s in Computer Science.

Website | + posts

This article was peer-reviewed and edited by Chris Drew (PhD). The review process on Helpful Professor involves having a PhD level expert fact check, edit, and contribute to articles. Reviewers ensure all content reflects expert academic consensus and is backed up with reference to academic studies. Dr. Drew has published over 20 academic articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education and holds a PhD in Education from ACU.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *