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What is ableism and how does it affect people?

Bias, prejudice, and discrimination towards persons with impairments are referred to as ableism. It is based on the assumption that handicapped individuals are less valued than non-disabled persons.

Differences in ability are a common occurrence in human life. In the United States, just under one in every five people has a handicap, and people with disabilities are the world’s most marginalized group, accounting for 15% of the global population. Despite this, one of the most widespread kinds of discrimination is ableism.



To comprehend ableism, one must first comprehend the concept of disability.

The medical model and the social model of impairment are the two types of disability. Disability is treated as a medical issue in the medical model. Disability is viewed as a notion produced by humans in the social model.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t any limitations. According to the social model, the notion of “disability” is context-dependent. In a culture that prioritizes a neurotypical style of thinking, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may be a handicap, but it may not be in a world that appreciates and recognizes neurodiversity.

In every context, there is no unique collection of features that makes someone incapacitated. This emphasizes the fact that a person’s perception of “disability” is often influenced by the culture in which they live.

What exactly is ableism?

Ableism maintains a negative perception of disability. Being non-disabled is shown as the ideal, whereas disability is portrayed as a fault or anomaly. It is a sort of systematic oppression that affects both handicapped persons and those who are perceived to be impaired by others. Ableism can also have an indirect impact on carers.

People, like other types of oppression, are not always aware that they are thinking or acting in an ableist manner. This is because individuals, whether consciously or unconsciously, pick up on ableism from others. Implicit bias refers to bias that a person is ignorant of.

It is highly typical to have implicit bias against persons with impairments. According to a previous research, 76 percent of respondents displayed an unconscious prejudice in favor of persons who were not disabled. Respondents with impairments were included in this group.

Among the implicit and explicit biases examined by the researchers, ableism was among the most prevalent and powerful, exceeding gender, color, weight, and sexuality. It was only second to ageism in terms of prevalence.

Types of ableism

Ableism presents itself in a variety of ways. It may be found at numerous levels of society, including:

  • Institutional level: Institutions are affected by this type of ableism. Medical ableism, for example, is based on the belief that any form of handicap is a problem that has to be solved. When this is incorporated into medical education and policy, it has ramifications for the whole healthcare system as well as patient well-being.
  • Interpersonal level: This is the type of ableism that occurs in social situations and relationships. A parent of a disabled kid, for example, would strive to “fix” the impairment rather than accept it.
  • Internal level: Internalized ableism occurs when a person, whether consciously or subconsciously, believes and applies the negative messages they receive about disability to themselves. A person may believe, for example, that disability accommodations are a privilege rather than a right.

Ableism also takes on different forms, including:

  • Hostile ableism: Bullying, abuse, and violence are examples of overtly antagonistic behaviors or policies.
  • Benevolent ableism: People with impairments are viewed as weak, fragile, or in need of rescue under this kind of ableism. This is condescending and diminishes the individual’s autonomy and uniqueness, perpetuating an uneven power dynamic.
  • Ambivalent ableism: This is a mix of ableism that is both hostile and beneficial. A person could, for example, begin a social engagement by being condescending and then become aggressive if the other person objects to their behavior.

It’s crucial to remember that ableism has varying effects on people depending on how others view their disability. For example, how people treat persons with apparent disabilities differs from how they treat those with invisible disabilities.

Other things that may have an impact include:

  • whether an impairment is physical or cognitive
  • whether or not a condition is well known to the general public
  • whether it has a history of being stigmatized, as this can lead to the development of specific myths, stereotypes, or slurs

Examples of ableism

Ableism manifests itself in a variety of ways, from overt hostility and aggression to less obvious everyday encounters. The following are a few examples:

  • asking someone what is “wrong” with them
  • saying, “You do not look disabled,” as though this is a compliment
  • viewing a person with a disability as inspirational for doing typical things, such as having a career
  • assuming a physical disability is a product of laziness or lack of exercise
  • using public facilities that are for people with disabilities, such as parking spaces or toilets
  • questioning whether a person’s disability is real

On a larger scale, some examples of ableism include:

  • Ableist language: In common discourse, there are several examples of ableism. Originally, terms like “dumb” and “lame” were meant to indicate disabilities, but they are now commonly used as synonyms for “stupid” or “bad.” People also misuse language in a way that diminishes the severity of situations. For example, a person may say, “I am so OCD.”
  • Inaccessible design: Ableism is defined as the design of buildings, public places, products, and technology that cater solely to non-disabled individuals. This includes websites without a text enlargement function, structures without a wheelchair ramp, and walkways with impediments that make walking more difficult.
  • Education discrimination: Examples of ableism in education include schools refusing to offer disability modifications, failing to comprehend a disability, and attempting to “educate” a kid not to have their handicap. For example, rather of adapting their teaching methods, a teacher can reprimand a dyslexic student.
  • Employment discrimination: Employers may be prejudiced towards people with disabilities because they believe they are less productive. They may also refuse to provide handicap concessions to current workers or ignore workplace bullying.

Ableism and health

Here are a few examples of how ableism impacts health and healthcare.

Barriers to care

Some doctors believe that having a handicap will always result in a bad quality of life. This is predicated on the belief that a person’s quality of life can only be great if they are not impaired. It may also be linked to the concept that not being handicapped makes one’s life more valuable.

This prejudice has major ramifications. It can lead medical practitioners to dismiss their patients’ lived experiences, mistakenly attribute new symptoms to a person’s incapacity, or withdraw medical assistance in the idea that nothing they do would help. It can result in a lack of access to healthcare, as well as preventable sickness and death.

Disregard for peoples’ lives

Ableism can lead to individuals prioritizing the health and independence of non-disabled persons over the health and independence of handicapped people.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, some individuals refused to wear masks to prevent the illness from spreading, despite the fact that older adults and persons with specific long-term ailments were at greater risk.

This demonstrates a flagrant disdain for the lives of those most vulnerable to COVID-19, particularly the elderly and those with chronic conditions, who are more likely to have one.

Because of the failure to restrict the spread of COVID-19, persons with disabilities have had to spend more time indoors. Some people have had to cancel medical appointments, have been unable to receive caregiver services, or have been removed off COVID-19 vaccine priority lists.

Physical restraint

Doctors have a long history of using force to limit the movements of patients with mental health and developmental disabilities. Physical constraint is still used in educational and healthcare settings in the United States.

Restraint is frequently used to prevent individuals from injuring themselves or others, but it is also used by certain organizations to prevent property damage, manage behavior, or punish rule-breaking. People with neurological or developmental disorders, particularly youngsters, are more likely to take it.

According to a report, dozens of people in the United States died as a result of physical restraint in the 1990s and 2000s. Many of the youngsters have special needs.


Eugenics is the practice or belief in selective breeding to eliminate “undesirable” features in humans. In the early twentieth century, it was a popular notion among scientists, and it was responsible for numerous mass sterilization initiatives across the United States. It also influenced Nazi Germany’s policy and, ultimately, the Holocaust.

The impact of eugenics may still be seen in the medical field. Programs persisted into the twenty-first century in certain cases, and many survivors are still living. The survivors and their families are still dealing with the emotional and physical effects of the programs.

New technologies, such as genetic testing and engineering, are also allowing people to prevent or “edit out” genetic conditions that might cause disability. Some worry that this might lead to a modern-day kind of eugenics.

What effect does ableism have?

Everyone is affected by ableism. It influences how individuals think about physical and mental differences that can occur at any moment during one’s life. It also has a negative impact on society as a whole because:

  • reducing access to transport, education, and the internet
  • increasing levels of unemployment
  • increasing poverty
  • fueling bullying, harassment, and violence
  • causing unnecessary institutionalization

What exactly is anti-ableism?

Anti-ableism entails fighting actively to eliminate ableism. It all starts with acknowledging that ableism exists, that it is harmful, and that non-disabled people gain from it. This is referred to as privilege.

Non-disabled persons do not have to consider accessibility or be concerned about ableist discrimination. Others may be more willing to appreciate and elevate non-disabled persons to positions of authority. This privilege can be used by an individual or a group of individuals to assist others.

Anti-ableism can be practiced in a variety of ways, including:

  • learning about disability — what it means and how it affects people
  • learning about ableism, ableist stereotypes, and the history of disability rights activism
  • listening to people with disabilities share their experiences
  • challenging ableism as it happens, for example, by correcting a myth or stopping bullying
  • giving people with disabilities a platform, or “passing the mic,” instead of speaking for them
  • advocating for accessibility and inclusivity
  • enacting policies or laws that counter ableism


Prejudice and discrimination towards persons with impairments is known as ableism. It is predicated on the assumption that being non-disabled is the norm, and that everything outside of that is aberrant or undesirable. It may take various forms, ranging from subtle comments to outright hostility.

Ableism in healthcare can have an impact on interactions with physicians and other professionals, as well as healthcare policy and outcomes. The belief that handicapped persons have less worth or live lives of inferior quality contributes to harmful practices that still exist today.

Anti-ableism is a strategy that anybody may use to combat ableism.



Chukwuebuka Martins

Chukwuebuka Martins is a writer, researcher, and health enthusiast who specializes in human physiology. He takes great pleasure in penning informative articles on many aspects of physical wellness, which he then thoroughly enjoys sharing to the general public.