Ableism /ˈblɪzəm/ (also known as ablism,[1] disablism, disability discrimination, and handicapism) is discrimination and social prejudice against people with disabilities. Ableism characterizes persons as defined by their disabilities and as inferior to the non-disabled.[2] On this basis, people are assigned or denied certain perceived abilities, skills, and/or character traits. Discrimination faced by those who have or are perceived to have a mental disorder is sometimes called mentalism rather than ableism.

There are stereotypes associated with various disabilities. These stereotypes in turn serve as a justification for ableist practices and reinforce discriminatory attitudes and behaviors toward people who are disabled.[3] Labeling affects people when it limits their options for action or changes their identity.[4]

In ableist societies, able-bodiedness is viewed as the norm; people with disabilities are understood as those that deviate from that norm. Disability is seen as something to overcome or to fix, for example, through medical intervention. The ableist worldview holds that disability is an error or a failing rather than a consequence of human diversity, akin to race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender.[5] One common type of ableist behavior denies others' autonomy by speaking for or about them rather than allowing them to speak for themselves.[6] An example of this behavior occurs when a waiter speaks to an aid or a companion instead of directly to the person with a disability.

Other definitions of ableism include those of Chouinard, who defines it as "ideas, practices, institutions, and social relations that presume able-bodiedness, and by so doing, construct persons with disabilities as marginalized [] and largely invisible 'others,'" [7][8] and of Amundson and Taira, who define ableism as "a doctrine that falsely treats impairments as inherently and naturally horrible and blames the impairments themselves for the problems experienced by the people who have them."[7][9]


Within communities of people with disabilities, there is disagreement about whether referring to themselves as "disabled" counts as internalized ableism. These groups may prefer the terms "non-neurotypical" or "neurodivergent" for mental divergences. When referring to people with disabilities, there are two methods: person-first language and disability-first language. The American Psychological Association (APA) advocates using person-first language.[10] This might look like "a person who is blind." The idea behind this method is to make the person the focus, and not their disability, as the idea behind this method is to focus on their personhood.[10] Person-first language has been linked to disability culture.[10] Disability-first language involves referring to the disability first, for example, "a blind person."[11] This method may be preferred by people who feel their disability is part of their identity, and using person-first language separates disability as part of their identity.[11] Preference between person-first language and disability-first language can vary per person and disability groups.[11]

Harpur argues that the term ableism is a powerful label that has the capacity to facilitate cultural change by focusing attention on the discriminator rather than on the victim or their impairment.[12][13] An individual that expresses hostility towards disabled people is called an able-bodyist; one who focuses on able-bodied people to the exclusion of disabled people may rarely be called an ablecentrist.[14][15]

Slang words to describe people with disabilities include "cripple," "daft," "dim-witted," "feeble-minded," "idiotic," "madman," and "retarded."[16]


United Kingdom

In the UK, disability discrimination became unlawful as a result of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and, later, the Disability Discrimination Act 2005. These were later repealed but the substantive law is replicated in the Equality Act 2010. Under the Equality Act 2010 there are several types of discrimination that are prohibited. These are direct discrimination (s.13(1) Equality Act 2010), indirect discrimination (s.6 and s.19 Equality Act 2010, harassment (s.26 Equality Act 2010), victimisation (s.27(2) Equality Act 2010), discrimination arising from disability (s.15(1) Equality Act 2010) and failure to make reasonable adjustments (s.20 Equality Act 2010).

The legal definition of disability is:

"A person (P) has a disability if P has a physical or mental impairment, and the impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on his ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities". (Section 6(1), Equality Act 2010)

Some conditions (such as blindness, AIDS and cancer) are expressly included; others (such as drug and alcohol addictions) are expressly excluded.

United States

Until the 1970s, ableism in the United States was often codified into law. For example, in many jurisdictions, so-called "ugly laws" barred people from appearing in public if they had diseases or disfigurements that were considered unsightly.[17][18]

Section 504 and other sections of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) enacted into law certain civil penalties for failing to make public places comply with access codes known as the ADA Access Guidelines (ADAAG); this law also helped expand the use of certain adaptive devices, such as TTYs (phone systems for the hearing/speech impaired), some computer-related hardware and software, wheelchair ramps or lifts on public transportation and curb-cuts at intersections which allow wheelchairs and their users to safely move between sidewalks and crosswalks. In addition these laws prohibit direct discrimination against disabled people in government programs, employment, public transit and public accommodations like stores and restaurants.

The building modification provisions of these directives apply to three general categories of buildings: existing government administration buildings and structures regardless of age; all newly constructed buildings and structures intended for use as public accommodations like stores and restaurants; significantly renovated and/or refurbished buildings and structures and any public accommodation where the cost of modification is slight when compared with the income it generates. The US government also offered significant tax incentives to businesses to make these modifications.

The federal Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 prohibits housing discrimination on the basis of disability and requires that newly constructed multi-family housing meet certain access guidelines while requiring landlords to allow disabled persons to modify existing dwellings for accessibility.

The Telecommunications Act,[19] Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Air Carriers Access Act, Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act and others have codified the notion that persons with disabilities have some of the same rights and privileges as other citizens.[20]


In addition to the federal protections provided by the ADA, California's Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) provides additional protections to California employees. Notably, FEHA applies to employers with 5 or more employees and offers more extensive protection than the ADA.[21]

Empirical evidence

In 2014, a large correspondence experiment to measure disability discrimination was conducted in Belgium by professor Stijn Baert of Ghent University. Two applications of graduates, identical except that one revealed a disability (blindness, deafness or autism), were both sent out to 768 vacancies for which the disabled candidates could be expected to be as productive as their non-disabled counterparts, based on the vacancy information. In addition, the researcher randomly disclosed the entitlement to a substantial wage subsidy in the applications of the disabled candidates. Disabled candidates had a 48% lower chance to receive a positive reaction from the employer side compared with the non-disabled candidates. Potentially due to the fear of the red tape, disclosing a wage subsidy did not affect the employment opportunities of disabled candidates.[22]


See also


  1. Oxford University Press, "Oxford Dictionaries Online: 'ableism'", Oxford Dictionaries Online, Retrieved 12 March 201h.
  2. Linton, Simi (1998). Claiming Disability Knowledge and Identity. New York: New York University Press. p. 9.
  3. Wüllenweber, Ernst; Theunissen, Georg; Mühl, Heinz (2006). Pädagogik bei geistigen Behinderungen: ein Handbuch für Studium und Praxis (Education for intellectual disabilities: A manual for study and practice) (in German). W. Kohlhammer Verlag. p. 149. ISBN 3-17-018437-7. Retrieved January 17, 2012.
  4. "Geistige Behinderung - Normtheorien nach Speck und Goffman.". Retrieved 2014-05-12.
  5. Marshak et al. 2009, p. 50.
  6. Ashby, Christine; Jung, Eunyoung; Woodfield, Casey; Vroman, Katherine; Orsati, Fernanda (2015). "'Wishing to go it alone': the complicated interplay of independence, interdependence and agency". Disability & Society. 30 (10): 1474–1489. doi:10.1080/09687599.2015.1108901.
  7. 1 2 Campbell 2009, p. 5.
  8. Chouinard 1997, p. 380.
  9. Amundson & Taira 2005, p. 54.
  10. 1 2 3 Dunn, Dana S.; Andrews, Erin E. "Person-first and identity-first language: Developing psychologists' cultural competence using disability language.". American Psychologist. 70 (3): 255–264. doi:10.1037/a0038636.
  11. 1 2 3 Anne, Primeau, Casey (2016-01-01). "Person-First Language: Difficulties and Solutions with Putting People First".
  12. Harpur, Paul (2009). "Sexism and Racism, Why not Ableism? Calling for a Cultural Shift in the Approach to Disability Discrimination". Alternative Law Journal. Melbourne: Legal Service Bulletin Co-operative Ltd. 34 (3): 163–167.
  13. 'From Disability to Ability: Changing the Phrasing of the Debate' (2012) 27 Disability and Society 3, 325-337
  14. Pelka, Fred (1997). The ABC-CLIO Companion to the Disability Rights Movement. p. 98.
  15. In Other Words: Writing As a Feminist - Page 50, Sigrid Nielsen - 2012
  16. "Autistic Hoya: Ableism/Language". Retrieved 2016-05-17.
  17. Brown, Patricia Leigh (August 20, 2000). "Viewing Ahab and Barbie Through the Lens of Disability". The New York Times
  18. "Cengage Learning".
  19. "The Telecommunications Act of 1996 and People With Disabilities | Federal Communications Commission". Retrieved 2016-02-16.
  20. "A Guide to Disability Rights Laws".
  21. "Disability Discrimination". Retrieved 2012-10-06.
  22. Baert, S. (2016) Wage Subsidies and Hiring Chances for the Disabled: Some Causal Evidence. European Journal of Health Economics, 17, 71-86.
  23. Linton, Simi (1998). Claiming Disability Knowledge and Identity. New York: New York University Press. p. 111.
  24. Arthur Shapiro: Everybody Belongs: Changing Negative Attitudes Toward Classmates with Disabilities (Critical Education Practice) retrieved 17. January 2012, ISBN 978-0-8153-3960-1
  25. Archived from the original on February 27, 2011. Retrieved January 21, 2012. Missing or empty |title= (help)


  • Amundson, Ron; Taira, Gayle (2005). "Our Lives and Ideologies: The Effects of Life Experience on the Perceived Morality of the Policy of Physician-Assisted Suicide" (PDF). Journal of Policy Studies. 16 (1): 5357. doi:10.1177/10442073050160010801. 
  • Campbell, Fiona A. Kumari (2001). "Inciting Legal Fictions: Disability Date with Ontology and the Ableist Body of the Law". Griffith Law Review. 10 (1): 4262. 
  • Campbell, Fiona A. Kumari (2009). Contours of Ableism: The Production of Disability and Abledness. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-230-57928-6. 
  • Chouinard, Vera (1997). "Making Space for Disabling Difference: Challenges Ableist Geographies". Environment and Planning D: Society and Space. 15: 379387. 
  • Griffin, Pat; Peters, Madelaine L.; Smith, Robin M. (2007). "Ableism Curriculum Design". In Adams, Maurianne; Bell, Lee Anne; Griffin, Pat. Teaching for diversity and social justice. 1 (2nd ed.). Taylor & Francis. ISBN 978-0-415-95199-9. 
  • Marshak, Laura E.; Dandeneau, Claire J.; Prezant, Fran P.; L'Amoreaux, Nadene A. (2009). The School Counselor's Guide to Helping Students with Disabilities. Jossey-Bass teacher. John Wiley and Sons. ISBN 978-0-470-17579-8. 

Further reading

External links

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