What is ableism

Human ethic to avoid
Human hand on a computer keyboard


One day I was waiting with my white cane and laptop bag to cross the road. I heard the sound of footsteps walking towards me. As the sounds were close to me, I said “Excuse me! Can you help me to cross the road?” No answer but I felt someone holding my hand and taking me towards the road. After walking a few steps, almost in the middle of the road, a female voice asked me, “Are you really blind?” I remain silent with a smile on my face and continue walking. As I completed crossing the road, I accidently hit the footpath on the other side of the road. Her question was answered. This was an ableist question.

In an another situation, while I was stepping down the stairs the person guiding me was holding me so strong, his arms around my neck and shoulders almost making me step down as we carefully stepdown a baby stroller. Wait, I can walk down, my legs are fine. Just tell me when I have to step down. This was an ableist act.

So, What is ableism?

Ableism is a form of descrimination in which a person with disability by default is assumed that they have less capabilities than the rest of the population. 

History of ableism  

Though ableism is observed from centuries in various forms, the one incident particularly disheartening was Aktion T4 by Hitler. More than 2,00,000 people who have either mental or physical disabilities have been killed between 1939 and 1945. This was an historic and absolute ableist act.
The word ableism is derived as ‘able’ from ability, disability etc. ‘ism’ is similar to waht we would have heard from racism and sexism.
Able + Ism = ableism

Understanding  ableism  

Many of us would have made ableist comments or created experiences that lead to ableism. We never know that the remarks we made or acts we did lead to ableism.

Everyday ableist situations

  • Talking or answering on behalf of a person with a disability.
  • Not talking to a person with a disability directly, instead talking with the support person.
  • Questioning if a person is really having a disability.
  • Asking invasive questions about the personal life of a person with a disability.
  • Planning an event in a venue that is not disability friendly.
  • Giving printed material to a person with blindness.
  • Using disability friendly restrooms though not having a disability.

Some ableist microaggressions

Micro-aggressions are everyday verbal or behavioral expressions that communicate a negative slight or insult in relation to someone’s gender identity, race, sex, disability, etc. Some ableist microaggressions are 

  • I never thought that you are disabled.
  • What do you think are the blindspots in the presentation?
  • Don’t behave like a psycho
  • Are you mental?
  • This is like playing music in front of a deaf.
  • It is  so lame

Other common ableist situations

That is  not everything. Some other situations or possibilities where ableism may be observed can be:

  • Construction of a public building such as an airport, government office without complying to disability laws such as ‘Right to persons with disabilities Act ‘ in India, Americans with disabilities Act’ in the United states etc.
  • Employing a person with disability but not providing reasonable accommodations.
  • Inaccessible websites and mobile apps.
  • Television shows and movies without captions and audio descriptions.
  • Refusing to provide reasonable accommodations in public spaces such as parks, restaurants, public transport etc.

How to prevent ableism

Now that we know what is ableism, let us know some ways to avoid it and be a disability ally.

  • Talk directly to a person with a disability, not to their interpretters or support person.
  • Do not assume they need help, ask them.
  • Believe if someone disclose their disability.
  • Keep invasive questions to yourself.
  • Provide reasonable accommodations to those who need and what they need. Do not assume.
  • Plan everything you do with accessibility in mind.
  • Learn and practice inclusive design, writing, coding, policy making etc.
  • Be a disability ally.