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Title: Ableism  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Discrimination, Handicapism, WikiProject Sociology/Cleanup listing, Disability, Piss On Pity
Collection: Activism, Disability Rights, Discrimination, Prejudices, Social Theories, Sociological Terminology
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


Ableism ([1]) is a form of discrimination or social prejudice against people with disabilities. It may also be referred to as disability discrimination, physicalism, handicapism, and disability oppression.[2] It is also sometimes known as disablism, although there is some dispute as to whether ableism and disablism are synonymous, and some people within disability rights circles find the latter term's use inaccurate. Discrimination faced by those who have or are perceived to have a mental disorder is sometimes called mentalism rather than ableism.


  • Definition 1
  • United Kingdom 2
  • United States 3
    • California 3.1
  • See also 4
  • References 5
    • Bibliography 5.1
  • Further reading 6
  • External links 7


Similar to many of the assumptions underlying the medical model of disability amongst many clinicians, the "ableist" societal world-view is that the able-bodied are the norm in society, and that people who have disabilities must either strive to become that norm or should keep their distance from able-bodied people. A disability is thus, inherently, a "bad" thing that must be overcome. The ableist worldview holds that disability is an error, a mistake, or a failing, rather than a simple consequence of human diversity, akin to race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender.[3]

Campbell draws a distinction between disablism and ableism. Disablism, she notes, has been the traditional focus of study within the field of disability studies. Disablism promotes the unequal treatment of the (physically) disabled versus the able-bodied. It marks the disabled as the Other, and works from the perspective of the able-bodied.[4]

Campbell acknowledges that the concept of ableism is, as of 2009, not clearly defined in the literature and has "limited definitional or conceptual specificity".[5] She herself distinguishes between ableism and disablism, defining the former as:

A network of beliefs, processes and practices that produces a particular kind of self and body (the corporeal standard) that is projected as the perfect, species-typical, and therefore essential and fully human. Disability is then cast as a diminished state of being human.[5][6]

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][5] and Amundson and Taira, who define it 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".[8][5]

In many circles, there is disagreement as to how to refer to themselves and if referring to themselves as "disabled" counts as internalized ableism. These groups may prefer the terms non-neurotypical or neurodivergent for mental divergences, or non-common-bodied for physical divergences. For those that do call themselves disabled, most prefer being referred to as disabled people, rather than people with disabilities, because the latter uses person-first language that separates the person from their disability, rather than identity-first language. In effect, it denies that their disability is a part of who they are and thereby denies the ableism itself.[9]

Harpur argues that the term ableism is a powerful label that has the capacity to ameliorate the use of negative stereotypes and facilitate cultural change by focusing attention on the discriminator rather than on the victim or impairment.[10][11]

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.

Legal experts have suggested that this definition of disability may change as a result of a Danish case currently before the European Court of Justice.[12]

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.[13][14]

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, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Air Carriers Access Act, Voting Accessibility Act and others have codified the notion that persons with disabilities have some of the same rights and privileges as other citizens.[15]


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.[16]

See also


  1. ^ ableism
  2. ^ Griffin, Peters & Smith 2007, p. 335.
  3. ^ Marshak et al. 2009, p. 50.
  4. ^ Campbell 2009, pp. 3–4.
  5. ^ a b c d Campbell 2009, p. 5.
  6. ^ Campbell 2001, p. 44.
  7. ^ Chouinard 1997, p. 380.
  8. ^ Amundson & Taira 2005, p. 54.
  9. ^
  10. ^ 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. 
  11. ^ 'From Disability to Ability: Changing the Phrasing of the Debate' (2012) 27 Disability and Society 3, 325-337
  12. ^
  13. ^ Brown, Patricia Leigh. "Viewing Ahab and Barbie Through the Lens of Disability." New York Times (August 20, 2000) as quoted by
  14. ^ Begging the question: disability, mendicancy, speech and the law.(Viewpoint essay), 01-JAN-07, Schweik, Susan, Ohio State University Press
  15. ^
  16. ^ "Disability Discrimination". Retrieved 2012-10-06. 


  • 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): 53–57.  
  • Campbell, Fiona A. Kumari (2001). "Inciting Legal Fictions: Disability Date with Ontology and the Ableist Body of the Law". Griffith Law Review 10 (1): 42–62. 
  • Campbell, Fiona A. Kumari (2009). Contours of Ableism: The Production of Disability and Abledness. Palgrave Macmillan.  
  • Chouinard, Vera (1997). "Making Space for Disabling Difference: Challenges Ableist Geographies". Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 15: 379–387. 
  • 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.  
  • 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.  

Further reading

  • Campbell, Fiona A. Kumari (2008). "Refusing Able(ness): A Preliminary Conversation about Ableism". M/C Journal 11 (3). 
  • Clear, Mike (1999). "The "Normal" and the Monstrous in Disability Research". Disability & Society 14 (4): 435–448.  
  • Hehir, Thomas (2005). "Eliminating Ableism in Education". In Katzman, Lauren I. Special education for a new century. Harvard educational review 41. Harvard Educational Review.  
  • Iwasaki, Yoshitaka; Mactavish, Jennifer (2005). "Ubiquitous Yet Unique: Perspectives of People with Disabilities on Stress". Rehabilitation Counselling Bulletin 48 (4): 194–208.  
  • Watts, Ivan Eugene; Erevelles, Nirmala (2004). "These Deadly Times: Reconceptualizing School Violence by Using Critical Race Theory and Disability Studies". American Educational Research Journal 41 (2): 271–299.  

External links

  • Alliance for Technology Access
  • Center for Disability Law and Policy
  • Ragged Edge Online
  • "The Social Movement Left Out" - Z Magazine article by Marta Russell
  • Nonprofit Research Collection on Disability & Employment Published on IssueLab
  • Disablism
  • Disability Discrimination Information and News
  • Guide to UK disability discrimination law
  • Disability Discrimination in the UK
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