15 Ableism Examples

15 Ableism ExamplesReviewed by Chris Drew (PhD)

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.

➡️ Study Card: What is Ableism?
ableism examples and definition
➡️ Introduction

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.

➡️ 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. Assuming Inability

condescending person

When someone assumes a person with a disability can’t perform a task without even asking them, it’s ableism. This might happen in the workplace when tasks are reassigned without consulting the person with a disability. It undermines their abilities and can damage their confidence. Everyone should be given the opportunity to show what they can do.

2. Inaccessible Environments

stairs up to shop

Buildings without ramps or elevators exclude people who use wheelchairs. This type of ableism creates physical barriers that prevent people with disabilities from accessing services, jobs, and social opportunities. It sends a message that their presence is not valued. Making environments accessible benefits everyone, not just those with disabilities.

3. Pity and Inspiration

person expressing pity

Treating people with disabilities as objects of pity or as inspirational just for living their lives is a form of ableism. It reduces their experiences to simplistic narratives that ignore their full humanity. This kind of attitude can be patronizing and dismissive. People with disabilities want to be seen as individuals, not as sources of inspiration or pity.

4. Using Derogatory Language

covering mouth

Using words like “crippled” to describe someone with a disability is ableism. These terms are offensive and perpetuate negative stereotypes. Such language can hurt and demean individuals with disabilities. Using respectful and accurate language is crucial in promoting dignity and inclusion.

5. Exclusion from Activities

woman saying no

When people with disabilities are excluded from social or recreational activities because of assumptions about their capabilities, it is ableism. This might happen in schools or community events where organizers do not consider making activities accessible. It prevents them from participating fully in society and enjoying the same experiences as others. Inclusion should be a priority to ensure everyone can join in and have fun.

6. Employment Discrimination

stern man

Employers may hesitate to hire someone with a disability, assuming they will be less productive or require too many accommodations. This type of ableism limits job opportunities and perpetuates economic inequalities. Everyone deserves a fair chance to prove their abilities and contribute to the workforce. Creating inclusive hiring practices benefits both employers and employees.

7. Medical Ableism

doctor

When healthcare providers dismiss symptoms or concerns of people with disabilities, attributing everything to their existing condition, it is ableism. This can lead to misdiagnoses or inadequate treatment. Everyone deserves thorough and respectful medical care. Healthcare providers should listen and take all symptoms seriously, regardless of the patient’s disability status.

8. Educational Barriers

school

Schools that do not provide adequate support or accommodations for students with disabilities are practicing ableism. This can result in these students falling behind or not reaching their full potential. Every student has the right to a quality education. Schools should ensure they have the necessary resources to support all learners.

9. Segregation in Housing

neighborhood

Placing people with disabilities in separate housing facilities instead of integrated, inclusive communities is a form of ableism. This segregation can lead to isolation and a lack of social opportunities. People with disabilities have the right to live in communities where they can interact with others and access various services. Integrated housing promotes diversity and mutual understanding.

10. Microaggressions

conversation

Everyday comments or actions that subtly express prejudice against people with disabilities are known as microaggressions. For example, saying “You don’t look disabled” or “You’re so brave for going out” can be demeaning. These statements imply that having a disability is negative or that everyday activities are extraordinary for them. Microaggressions can accumulate and contribute to a hostile environment.

11. Assuming Mental Incompetence

student

When people assume that someone with a physical disability also has a cognitive impairment, it is ableism. This can lead to speaking slowly, using simple language, or talking down to them. It overlooks the individual’s actual capabilities and can be very frustrating. People should be treated based on their own abilities, not assumptions.

12. Inaccessible Public Transportation

person in wheelchair waiting for public transport

Public transportation systems that are not accessible to people with disabilities limit their independence and mobility. This might include buses without ramps, trains without elevators, or inaccessible platforms. It restricts their ability to travel, work, and participate in society. Ensuring public transportation is accessible benefits everyone and promotes equality.

13. Objectifying People with Disabilities

man in wheelchair in conversation

Treating people with disabilities as if they are objects of curiosity or using them to make oneself feel better is ableism. For example, staring at someone with a visible disability or using their story to feel grateful for one’s own life. This dehumanizes them and reduces them to their disability. People with disabilities deserve to be seen and respected as whole individuals.

14. Tokenism

TV

Including a person with a disability in an activity or group only to appear inclusive, without giving them real power or voice, is ableism. This might happen in workplaces or media representations where diversity is showcased superficially. It can feel patronizing and doesn’t address systemic issues of inequality. Genuine inclusion means valuing and incorporating their contributions fully.

15. Lack of Representation

person in wheelchair giving presentation

While we want to avoid tokenism, we still want to see genuine involvement of people with disabilities in media, politics, and other public arenas. Invisibility in the public sphere perpetuates stereotypes and ignores the diversity of experiences within the disabled community. Representation matters because it helps break down prejudices and provides role models for others. Including people with disabilities in various roles can foster a more inclusive society.

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.

Conclusion

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.

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.

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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.

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