Excerpted below are quotes from community writing and scholarly studies on the definition, history, and forms of ableism.
Content notes: ableism, racism, sexism, white supremacy, slavery, ABA, cure, defectiveness, eugenics, scientific racism, torture, murder, police violence, state violence, suicide, institutionalization, imprisonment
A system that places value on people’s bodies and minds based on societally constructed ideas of normality, intelligence, excellence, desirability, and productivity. These constructed ideas are deeply rooted in anti-Blackness, eugenics, misogyny, colonialism, imperialism and capitalism.
This form of systemic oppression leads to people and society determining who is valuable and worthy based on a person’s language, appearance, religion and/or their ability to satisfactorily [re]produce, excel and “behave.”
You do not have to be disabled to experience ableism.
- Oppression, prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination against disabled people on the basis of actual or presumed disability.
- The belief that people are superior or inferior, have better quality of life, or have lives more valuable or worth living on the basis of actual or perceived disability.
Ableism is a set of beliefs or practices that devalue and discriminate against people with physical, intellectual, or psychiatric disabilities and often rests on the assumption that disabled people need to be ‘fixed’ in one form or the other. Ableism is intertwined in our culture, due to many limiting beliefs about what disability does or does not mean, how able-bodied people learn to treat people with disabilities and how we are often not included at the table for key decisions.
Ableism – The practices and dominant attitudes in society that devalue and limit the potential of persons with disabilities. A set of practices and beliefs that assign inferior value (worth) to people who have developmental, emotional, physical or psychiatric disabilities.
Disablism – A set of assumptions (conscious or unconscious) and practices that promote the differential or unequal treatment of people because of actual or presumed disabilities.
Source: What Is Ableism? | Stop Ableism
Ableism is an entire system of thinking and doing that hurts disabled people/people with disabilities.
Ableism is a form of systemic, structural, and institutional oppression.
Ableism is racist and white supremacist.
It is anti-Black and anti-Native.
Ableism is capitalist. Ableism is eugenicist.
Ableism is a system of power differentials and power relations, where people whose body minds are considered healthy, whole, functional, sane, stable, strong, and intelligent are granted enormous political, social, cultural, and economic power at the direct expense of people whose body minds are instead deemed sick, broken, defective, diseased, disordered, deficient, weak, unstable, and stupid.
Ableism teaches us which kinds of people count as human and which do not.
Ableism teaches us which kinds of people ought to be allowed to live, to breathe, and to be, and which ought not.
Ableism teaches us which kinds of people should reproduce and which kinds of people should be reproduced.
Ableism teaches us which kinds of children should be allowed to be born and which people ought to be allowed to have children in the first place.
Ableism teaches us who is considered valuable, worthy, and desirable and who is considered expendable and disposable.
Ableism teaches us who is worth living and saving and who, instead, is acceptable collateral damage.
Ableism is at its core a system of oppression that is rooted in, connected to, inextricably tied to, dependent on, and necessary for every other form of oppression.
In particular, ableism is virulently racist and white supremacist.
In particular, in this country, it is anti-Black and anti-Native.
Ableism is not a list of bad words. Language is *one* tool of an oppressive system. Being aware of language — for those of us who have the privilege of being able to change our language — can help us understand how pervasive ableism is. Ableism is systematic, institutional devaluing of bodies and minds deemed deviant, abnormal, defective, subhuman, less than. Ableism is *violence.*
Ableism is not “bad words.” It’s violence.
Ableism is the violence in the clinic, in the waiting room, in the social welfare lines, in the classroom, in the recess yard, in the bedroom, in the prisons, in the streets. Ableism is the violence (and threat of violence) we live with each day.
Ableism is the constant apologetics for family members and caregivers who murder their disabled relatives — they must have had it so hard, it must have been such a burden, you musn’t judge unless you’ve walked in their shoes. (In the last few decades, more than 400 disabled people were murdered by relatives or caregivers, and those are only the stories we know about.)
Ableism is the fact that a police officer who shot an unarmed Black man with his hands up decided it made more sense to claim he was actually aiming for the Brown autistic man holding a toy truck beside the Black man.
Ableism is the fact that anywhere from around 40% to 70% of U.S. prisoners are also disabled, and that the forces of white supremacy, racism, and capitalism that keep poor Black and Brown people in prisons are necessarily intertwined with ableist presuppositions about intelligence and emotional capacity. (And that all incarcerated people — disabled or not — as well as many free disabled people can be paid, completely legally, only a few cents per hour for menial labor, and that this is called opportunity and teaching work ethic.)
Ableism is the fact that it is totally legal to torture disabled people in the name of treatment and help and “for your own good” — everywhere from the daily ABA torture sessions focused on normalization at the expense of our own mental health to the extremes of the Judge Rotenberg Center where we are shocked even for flapping or moving out of our seats.
Ableism is the fact that on average, autistic people die 30 years younger than non-autistic people, with suicide as the second leading cause of death. As one friend put it, that’s an act of murder by society, because it is so bad that too many of us decide that it is no longer worth trying to live in a world literally designed to destroy us from the moment we are first born.
They hate us, and we already know it. They aim for us. They mean to kill. They mean to harm. They know what they are doing, and we know it too. There can be no innocence, not for us. Ableism is not some arbitrary list of “bad words,” as much as language is a tool of oppression. Ableism is violence, and it kills.
We believe that ableism is a “system of discrimination,” which means that it influences how people talk about and perceive autism whether or not they are aware of it, and regardless of whether or not they actually believe that autistic people are inferior to nonautistic people. We also believe that language choices are part of what perpetuates this system
Ableism is perpetuated by culturally shared norms and values, as well as ways of speaking and writing about disability and disabled people. These social processes culminate in, and originate from, societal expectations about the abilities required for granting individuals full social rights, agency, and even personhood. Ableism intersects with other systems of oppression, including racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia. This means that ableism is compounded by experiences such as racism. In addition, disabled people of color are more likely to experience the effects of ableism than white disabled people.
Defectiveness justifies cure and makes it essential. Across the centuries, how many communities have been declared inherently defective by white people, rich people, nondisabled people, men backed by medical, scientific, academic, and state authority?
Defectiveness wields incredible power because ableism builds and maintains the notion that defective body-minds are undesirable, worthless, disposable, or in need of cure. In a world without ableism, defective, meaning the “imperfection of a bodily system,” would probably not even exist. But if it did, it would only be a neutral descriptor. However, in today’s world where ableism fundamentally shapes white Western cultural definitions of normal and abnormal, worthy and unworthy, whole and broken body-minds, any person or community named defective can be targeted without question or hesitation for eradication, imprisonment, institutionalization. The ableist invention of defectiveness functions as an indisputable justification not only for cure but also for many systems of oppression.
Cartwright and the rest use the ableist invention of defectiveness in order to explain and justify the practices of enslavement, imprisonment, institutionalization, and state violence. In essence, they fortify white supremacy by leveraging ableism.
Entire body-minds, communities, cultures are squeezed into defective. And then that single blunt concept turns, becoming defect. Bullies hurl it as an insult. Strangers ask it out of curiosity. Doctors note it in medical files. Judges and juries hear it in testimony. Scientists study it as truth. Politicians write it into policy. Defect and defective explode with hate, power, and control.
The list of body-mind differences, illnesses, and so-called defects that the medical-industrial complex wants to eradicate goes on and on. This kind of elimination benefits some of us in significant ways-saving our lives or increasing our comfort. At the same time, it also commits damage, routinely turning body-minds into medical objects and creating lies about normal and natural.
…as a widespread ideology centered on eradication, cure always operates in relationship to violence.
As an ideology seeped into every corner of white Western thought and culture, cure rides on the back of normal and natural.
Forced intimacy is a cornerstone of how ableism functions in an able bodied supremacist world. Disabled people are expected to “strip down” and “show all our cards” metaphorically in order to get the basic access we need in order to survive. We are the ones who must be vulnerable-whether we want to or not-about ourselves, our bodyminds and our abilities. Forced intimacy was one of the many ways I learned that consent does not exist for my disabled asian girl bodymind. People are allowed to ask me intrusive questions about my body, make me “prove” my disability or expect me to share with them every aspect of my accessibility needs. I learned how to simultaneously shrink myself and nonconsensually open myself up as a disabled girl of color every damn day.
Forced intimacy is the opposite of access intimacy. It feels exploitative, exhausting and at times violating. Because I am physically disabled and use a manual wheelchair, I often experience forced intimacy when able bodied people push my wheelchair without my consent or when I am in situations where I have to be pushed by people I do not feel safe with, know or who are actively harassing me while pushing me. This often happens when I am traveling and have to rely on strangers for my access needs. I cannot count the number of times a strange man has pushed my wheelchair in the airport, while saying offensive and gross comments to me. These are the moments where disability, race, gender, immigration, class, age and sexuality collide together at once, indistinguishable from one another.
The notion that some people produce more (or less) for the economy and are, therefore, more (or less) valuable -is ableism.
Unsurprisingly, undergirding many US immigration laws, for instance, are theories of “scientific” racism and eugenics – namely, on ideas of racial superiority/inferiority, gendered, sexual and psychopathic deviancy, and prevailing notions of “common sense” racism. Such arguments construct a knowledge system that ties the worth of people to their productivity and proximity to normative constructions of whiteness.
To be sure, then, ableism is part and parcel of white supremacy. According to critical race theorist Frances Lee Ansley, white supremacy is “a political, economic and cultural system in which whites overwhelmingly control power and material resources.” Furthermore, according to Robin DiAngelo, a scholar of Whiteness Studies, white supremacy defines white people “as the norm or standard for human, and people of colour as an inherent deviation from that norm.”
So intertwined are these oppressions that any attempt to rid the nation of racism without doing away with ableism yields practically nothing. The same is true in reverse. Disabled communities attempting to rid the nation of ableism find themselves having made very little headway because they are still practicing racism.
Yet the cultural impulse to assume that people with genetic variations are in a constant state of suffering, and that it blights our lives, is so pervasive that it is even internalized by some with genetic conditions themselves.
Such genetic determinism is a new form of eugenic thinking grounded in what the communications studies scholar James L. Cherney calls “common sense” ableism, a belief system that allows people to simultaneously deny any commitment to distasteful eugenic principles while also holding them up. Common sense ableism permits, even encourages, such injurious attitudes.
Utilizing genome manipulation tools and performing genetic selection is tantamount to engaging in what Rosemarie calls “velvet eugenics.” Enforced by laissez-faire commercialism, rather than by the state, velvet eugenics seems like common sense, yet it hides its violence and inequality behind claims of patient autonomy and under a veil of voluntary consent. Ultimately, market-driven velvet eugenics embodies a similar goal of purging unacceptable human variations that campaigns to eliminate the supposedly unfit and inferior have held in the past. Both enact a mandate to exclude people with disabilities from coming into the world.
[A]bleism is that most insidious form of rhetoric that has become reified and so widely accepted as common sense that it denies its own rhetoricity—it “goes without saying.” To fully address it we must name its presence, for cultural assumptions accepted uncritically adopt the mantle of “simple truth” and become extremely difficult to rebut. As the neologism “ableism” itself testifies, we need new words to reveal the places it resides and new language to describe how it feeds. Without doing so, ableist ways of thinking and interpreting will operate as the context for making sense of any acts challenging discrimination, which undermines their impact, reduces their symbolic potential, and can even transform them into superficial measures that give the appearance of change yet elide a recalcitrant ableist system.
Ableism dominates the thinking of our society as a whole and it clearly operates as a discourse of power and domination.
Recognizing ableism requires a shift in orientation, a perceptual gestalt framed by the filter of the term “ableism” itself. The same texts that broadcast “Ableism!” to those oriented to perceive it are usually read innocently even when viewed from a liberal, humanitarian, or progressive perspective. Ableism is so pervasive that it is difficult to identify until one begins to interrogate the governing assumptions of well-intentioned society. Within the space allowed by these rhetorical premises, ableism appears natural, necessary, and ultimately moral discrimination required for the normal functioning of civilization. Consider a set of stairs. An ableist culture thinks little of stairs, or even sees them as elegant architectural devices—especially those grand marble masterpieces that elevate buildings of state. But disability rights activists see stairs as a discriminatory apparatus—a “no crips allowed” sign that only those aware of ableism can read—that makes their inevitable presence around government buildings a not-so-subtle statement about who belongs in our most important public spaces. But the device has become so accepted in our culture that the idea of stairs as oppressive technology will strike many as ludicrous. Several years ago when I began to study ableism, a professor—unconvinced of the value of the project—questioned my developing arguments by pointing to a set of steps and exclaiming, “Next you’ll be telling me that those stairs discriminate!” He was right.
The professor’s surprise suggests that commonplace cultural assumptions support themselves because the very arguments available against them seem unwarranted and invalid. Interrogating stairs was such an outrageous idea that a simple reductio ad absurdum argument depicted the critique of ableism as a fallacy. As an ingrained part of the interpretive frameworks sanctioned by culture, ableism gets reinforced by the everyday practice of interpreting and making sense of the world.
The problem is not that deviance is bad, it is that ableism teaches seeing it that way. The problem is not that being abnormal is unnatural, it is that ableism teaches valuing normalcy that way. The problem is not that ability resides in the body, and that a body with different skills is inherently unable to function in society, it is that ableism teaches knowing ability that way. Confronting ableism as visual, ideological, and epistemic problems does not require us to set aside efforts to change the material order of society—such as working to provide access to public spaces—but it does empower disability literature, art, slogans, and protests as crucial to the effort to change what disability means.
If we locate the problem in disability, then the ableist absolves his or her responsibility for discrimination and may not even recognize its presence. If we locate the problem in ableism, then the ableist must question her or his orientation. The critic’s task is to make ableism so apparent and irredeemable that one cannot practice it without incurring social castigation. This requires substantial vigilance, for ableist thinking pervades the culture. For example, as I write this, I am tempted to use medical metaphors to explain the task and script something like “we cannot simply excise the tumor of ableism and heal the culture, for it has metastasized and infiltrated every organ of society.” Yet this metaphor relies on an ableist perspective that motivates with the fear of death and turns to medical solutions to repair a body in decay. Using it, I would endorse and perpetuate ableist rhetoric, just as I would by using deafness as a metaphor for obstinacy (“Marie was deaf to their pleas for bread”) or blindness to convey ignorance (“George turned a blind eye to global warming”). The pervasiveness of these and similar metaphors, like the cultural ubiquity of using images of disabled bodies to inspire pity, suggest the scale of the work ahead, and the ease with which one can resort to using them warns of the need for critical evaluation of one’s own rhetoric. Yet the task can be accomplished. Just as feminists have changed Western culture by naming and promoting recognition of sexism, the glass ceiling, and patriarchy—admittedly a work in progress, yet also one that can celebrate remarkable achievements—we can reform ableist culture by using rhetoric to craft awareness and political action.
In ableist societies, disabled people are considered less valuable, or they are even seen as expendable.
Source: Ableism – Wikipedia
COVID has highlighted what disabled people knew decades ago: We are viewed as disposable.
One of the cruelest tricks our culture plays on autistic people is that it makes us strangers to ourselves. We grow up knowing we’re different, but that difference is defined for us in terms of an absence of neurotypicality, not as the presence of another equally valid way of being. We wind up internalizing a lot of hateful, damaging, and inaccurate things about ourselves, and that makes it harder to know who we really are or what we really can and cannot do. If no one ever acknowledges that we have a voice, we can forget how to use it. We might even decide not to.
Our movement, however, needs nothing of respectability politics. Accepting – conceding, surrendering, submitting to – that will only erode our movement until it crumbles entirely. Respectability politics is what’s gotten us into reliance on foundations and nonprofits, and elected officials and bureaucrats, and policies and programs that only benefit the most privileged and resourced members of our communities at the direct expense of the most marginalized. Radical, militant anger – and radical, militant hope, and radical, wild dreams, and radical, active love – that’s what’ll get us past the death machines of ableism and capitalism and white supremacy and laws and institutions working overtime to kill us.
There is conscious and unconscious bias about people with a whole continuum of atypical brains and bodies. And when we judge someone’s intelligence based on their spelling and we rule out their capacities as a human being because of their bad handwriting…,we are participating in a subtle and yet very powerful form of institutionalized ableism.
Elevate ableism as one of the injustices of our world.
The tenets of DisCrit, as seen in Table 1, guide our analysis of scientific research throughout history and how it has been used to “other” people by defining the norm based on a white supremacist, ableist perspective of the world. Whiteness and ability are property, and the way these power systems play out in the field of education creates our inequitable, oppressive system.
DisCrit is focused on ways that the forces of racism and ableism circulate interdependently, often in neutralized and invisible ways, to uphold notions of normalcy.
Because DisCrit emphasizes the “legal and historical aspects” of disability and race in the U.S. (Annamma, Connor, & Ferri, 2016, p. 19), we focus on the historical developments of dis/ability and race as co-constructed social identities, starting with the 19th century. Although the use of scientific research by white Americans to dehumanize people of color preceded the 19th century, this period in U.S. history provides the most compelling evidence of the co-construction of race and disability through science, medicine, and immigration policy (Dolmage, 2018). This historical context contributes to the foundation of a critical perspective of contemporary issues related to scientific research in education because, as DisCrit affirms, ableism and racism circulate interdependently and “have been used separately and together to deny the rights of some citizens” (p. 19).
In the work of eugenicists, we again observe ableism and white supremacy in the creation of a narrative about who deserves the right to be human and live a full life and the denial of full personhood to those deemed inferior due to language, ethnicity, and perceived ability. While we can study eugenics from a historical standpoint, the fact is that “these eugenic ideas about the value of certain bodies have never gone away” (Dolmage, 2018, p. 4).
These ableist beliefs defy reality testing, but they persist. As we challenge white supremacy, settler colonialism, gender normativity and violence that targets trans people, we challenge able-bodied normativity. Through this clearing practice, we create Disability Justice.
The histories of white supremacy and ableism are inextricably entwined, created in the context of colonial conquest and capitalist domination. One cannot look at the history of US slavery, the stealing of Indigenous lands, and US imperialism without seeing the way that white supremacy uses ableism to create a lesser/“other” group of people that is deemed less worthy/abled/smart/capable. A single-issue civil rights framework is not enough to explain the full extent of ableism and how it operates in society. We can only truly understand ableism by tracing its connections to heteropatriarchy, white supremacy, colonialism, and capitalism. The same oppressive systems that inflicted violence upon Black and brown communities for 500+ years also inflicted 500+ years of violence on bodies and minds deemed outside the norm and therefore “dangerous.” Furthermore, racism, anti-Islamic beliefs, ableism and imperialism come together to feed us images of the “terrorist” as a dangerous Brown enemy, an “other” who is sexually and mentally “wrong.” All this is compounded by the ways ableism, along with queer-hatred and the violence of the gender binary, label our bodies and communities as “deviant,” “unproductive,” and “invalid.”
It doesn’t help anyone to pretend that we don’t have differing bodies, minds, and hearts, desires, needs, and limits — we most certainly (and fabulously) do. A disability justice orientation names ableism as a constructed, violent ordering of bodily difference that our movement works to unmask and undo, but it also recognizes that we currently exist in the world as it has been structured by ableism. Therefore, mixed ability organizing means engaging the tensions between living in this system (which categorizes us, limits us, disables us, and pits us against each other), while also resisting it. The tension between these two facts will be an enduring feature of the struggle for disability justice.
Disability justice encompasses and embraces all bodies, minds, hearts, and forms of embodiment. This emergent movement is unquestionably of, by, and for disabled people of color and queer, trans, and gender- nonconforming people with disabilities, as we are subjected to the greatest violence of ableism, and therefore have the greatest stake in its abolition. Simultaneously, disability justice is ultimately about re-imagining and reinventing all of our relationships with one another, as well as with our own bodyminds. It is about transforming the very material and psychic frameworks that designate some bodies and minds as normative, valuable, and acceptable and others as deviant, worthless, or dangerous. We all have a stake, and role to play, in disability justice, in dismantling ableism and building toward a world where all bodies and minds are recognized and treated as valuable and beautiful. We still have a very long way to go, but we have each other to hold, and be held by, through the journey.
Our understanding of able-bodied supremacy has been formed in relation to intersecting systems of domination and exploitation. The histories of white supremacy and ableism are, after all, inextricably entwined, both forged in the crucible of colonial conquest and capitalist domination. We cannot comprehend ableism without grasping its interrelations with heteropatriarchy, white supremacy, colonialism, and capitalism, each system co-creating an ideal bodymind built upon the exclusion and elimination of a subjugated “other” from whom profits and status are extracted.
The system of discriminatory practices and beliefs that maintain and perpetuate disability oppression.
ableism functions as a dehumanizing system that favors able-bodied people at the expense of people with disabilities, producing barriers from internalized ableism and shame, to interpersonal conflicts between non-disabled people and people with disabilities, lack of access to education, employment, and housing, social control imposed through the medical industrial complex and criminalization, and the severe isolation caused by institutionalization and incarceration.
Ableism tells us some bodies are valuable and some are disposable.
In the U.S. context, ableism has been forged with and through white supremacy, colonial conquest, capitalist domination, and heteropatriarchy so that bodies are valued for their ability to produce profit or have it extracted from them, or are otherwise excluded or eliminated through isolation, institutionalization, incarceration, and/or death. Since the 1960s, the disability rights movement has made important strides to establish the civil rights of people with disabilities, increase access for people with mobility and communication impairments, and advance a philosophy of independent living for people with disabilities. However, the wisdom and experiences of people of color and poor people have often been marginalized in the disability rights struggle, and the solutions have often been too narrow to get to the root causes of ableism that keep people with disabilities targeted for criminalization, poverty and isolation.
“Any form of discrimination is abuse, ableism is discrimination against people with disabilities and internalized ableism is when you inflict that discrimination on to yourself because it’s what society has told you is true. Which yes, is all rooted in White supremacy. Ableism, sexism, racism, homophobia and transphobia is all the same, just in different forms.”
“To end white supremacy, we must dismantle the ableist notion of defectiveness.” He challenged my concepts of access and my understanding of the word defective while he linked the long history of that word with white supremacy. Eli discussed how “intersectional analysis allows us to see how all oppression grows from the same dominant power structure of cisgender — able bodied — white supremacist — capitalist — heteropatriarchy that bell hooks first articulated for us.”
Racism and ableism are often thought of as parallel systems of oppression that work separately to perpetuate social hierarchy. Not only does this way of looking at the world ignore the experiences of people of color with disabilities, but it also fails to examine how race is pathologized in order to create racism. Meaning that society treats people of color in specific ways to create barriers, and these poor conditions create disability. The concept of disability has been used to justify discrimination against other groups by attributing disability to them.
There are countless examples across history of black and brown bodies being pathologized in order to perpetuate white supremacy, and although there are examples of this across race, this piece will focus on the experiences of black people. An analysis of how black bodies have been pathologized in this country should begin with American slavery. The existence of the economic system of slavery relied on the social idea that African Americans lacked sufficient intelligence to participate or compete on an equal basis in society with white Americans. This idea was confirmed with the creation of several diseases specific to Black people. Drapetomania, for example, was a condition that caused slaves to run away “as much a disease of the mind as any other species of mental alienation.”1 Similarly, Dysaesthesia Aechiopis—a unique ailment differing “from every other species of mental disease, as it is accompanied with physical signs or lesions of the body”—resulted in a desire to avoid work and generally to cause mischief.2 These are only two examples of disability being created by people in power in order to preserve social order, and yet there are foundational.
To summarize, institutional racism has pathologized brown bodies in order to maintain the status quo while simultaneously failing to acknowledge that the state is responsible for creating environments where disability is inevitable. As a result, ableism will always exist if racism exists because it is a tool of racism, creating societal barriers for people of color creates disability. The social model of disability that the disability community is embracing by definition includes people of color, and yet the disability community is not inclusive of the struggles of people of color. Understanding the connection between these two systems of oppression should unite the disability and people of color communities, and yet little is known about this history. This does negate the experiences of people of color with disabilities, as there are many (myself included) who identify as both a person of color and as a person with a disability. It is true, however, that both these communities’ movements for civil rights have existed in primarily separate spheres. Understanding the historical connection between racism and ableism should lead to a connected effort to disable these systems of oppression. The ultimate goal of meaningful inclusion for the disability community will never be fully realized until black and brown people are also free.
Source: Racism and Ableism – AAPD