What Is Ableism, And Is It Still A Problem In 2018?

If you haven’t heard of it before, ableism is a term used to describe discrimination or social prejudice against disabled people. It involves treating someone unfairly because of characteristics that directly relate to their disability.

You might be thinking it sounds similar to other things, like sexism and racism, and that’s because it is similar. The only difference is that ableism is the term used for disability discrimination as opposed to race or gender discrimination.

hands painted with red paint to represent a heart | we need to talk about ableism/disability discrimination. Is it still a thing, is there more that we can do about it?

Even though our society is growing more tolerable of people’s differences, I still feel like ableism isn’t taken as seriously as it should be. Unlike other hate crimes, there isn’t one universal name for disability discrimination. In fact, it has several names around the world, including disablism, ablecentrism and physicalism.

I’m sure, in parts of the world where disabled people are less accepted, there’s probably not a word for this discrimination. This makes taking action against those who commit serious acts of discrimination, or teaching those who may not be aware of what they’re doing, so much harder.

But is ableism really that much of a problem?

You might have read this far and wondered why I’m making such a big deal out of this. Disabled people aren’t locked in institutions anymore, so what’s the problem?

Obviously the closure of institutions for disabled people around the world was a massive step in the right direction. With that being said, I think we still have a long way to go before things are anywhere near equal in modern day society.

There are many beliefs in our society that leave people feeling entitled to decide whether someone is disabled or not. I’ve been told I’m “not disabled enough“, whatever that’s supposed to mean, and I’m not the only one. When it comes to invisible disabilities, it often feels like you’re left fighting to have yourself recognised as disabled. Who would go around pretending to be disabled, anyway?

Ableism has definitely changed in recent years, though. It’s become more integrated in society, to the point where we don’t always realise something is ableist. To give you an idea of what constitutes as ableism, I have left some examples below.

YouTube Comments

Ableism isn’t just about the way you treat people. It’s also about the language you use to talk to or about disabled people.

This is where I hold my hands up and admit to watching a lot of YouTube. It’s so easy to sit down and tell yourself you’re going to watch a quick ten-minute video and still be there three hours later. Like many other people, I find YouTube relaxing, but the comment section? Not so much.

If someone does something someone disagrees with, a slanging match starts. More and more, these slanging matches will include ableist insults like ‘spastic’ and ‘retard’, thrown around like they’re nothing. In certain communities, I’ve even seen the word ‘autistic’ thrown around as an insult. It’s not a rare occurrence either, and these people—probably children or young teenagers—have no idea about the hate crime they’re committing.

The worst part is, if you try and call out these people for being ableist, you’ll be called a snowflake. Are you really worrying about what a few people are saying in YouTube comments when there are children starving all over the world? I’ve heard that a few times, to the point where I don’t even bother calling people out anymore.

Laptop Bans

In the last several years, there have been many stories about university lecturers banning laptops in their lectures. Many say they will allow exceptions for disabled students who provide proof, but is it really fair?

It singles out disabled individuals in a classroom and invites people to ask prying questions about their need for a laptop when they’ve been banned. Some students might avoid asking for the accommodation on the basis of avoiding said social ridicule, which isn’t fair.

Even more than that, though, is that some students may even struggle to provide the evidence they need to prove they are entitled to a laptop. As someone who has been fighting with disability services for three years, getting anything out of them is almost impossible. Even if this information is available, they may not be able to get said accommodation without disclosing embarrassing medical information first. Who really wants to tell a lecturer they hardly know about intimate, private parts of their life?

Everyday Life

I’m sure you get the idea of ableism by now. You can probably recognise that you’ve witnessed events of ableism in your own life. In this section, however, I wanted to focus on one of the times I have been discriminated against.

If you didn’t already know, I’m autistic. This can make certain places—like dentist offices—extremely overwhelming from a sensory stand point. That’s why, when asked to disclosed any conditions I had while waiting for an appointment in 2016, I stated my disability. It was a new dentist and I wanted them to be aware that there was a reason I found dentists difficult to deal with.

In the half an hour wait until I was called through, I honestly thought nothing of the disclosure. I thought, if anything, we’d have a small chat about ways they could help reduce my discomfort/stress and that would be that.

What actually happened?

I sat down in the dentist’s chair. She says hello, introduces herself, and then reads the form I’d filled in. That’s when things take a turn for the worse.

Her own assumptions about my disability means she doesn’t talk to me throughout the appointment. At all. At one point, she even turns to my mum and asks if it hurts when she touches certain teeth. In my mouth. My mum is a lot of things, but one thing she isn’t is telepathic.

You’re probably not surprised to hear that I started crying the moment I got in the car following my appointment. I felt dehumanised and frustrated, both at the same time. As someone who is uncomfortable with dentists anyway, this definitely made it a lot harder to return to one in future.

Thanks for reading…

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21 thoughts on “What Is Ableism, And Is It Still A Problem In 2018?

  1. Great post. I love how you’re writing about such an important issue. I hadn’t actually heard of the word ableism. So sorry of the awful experience you had at the dentists. That was definitely uncalled for. I do agree that ableism exists in society and it is really unfortunate. I hadn’t heard of the laptop bans. It’s so unfair having to prove you need something especially to a stranger. We don’t have a laptop ban in the university I go to but some lecturers do expect you to sit in the front few rows if you have one. Thanks for sharing. I do hope things improve over the coming years. You’ve definitely taken the first step in regard to this by educating your readers about ableism.

    1. Thank you so much! I’d never heard of the word before my own diagnosis if I’m being completely honest, so it’s to be expected that you hadn’t either. The dentist situation was definitely unfortunate, but thankfully, it hasn’t happened since! It’s great that your university doesn’t have a laptop ban (I think it’s more of an American thing if I’m being completely honest), but it’s still a shame that people who use them are expected to sit in the first few rows. It might be difficult for people with certain disabilities to get to the first few rows, or for certain people to feel comfortable sitting there from a psychological point of view.

  2. Such an interesting post! I agree wholeheartedly that this continues to be a problem in our society. Just today, after fuelling a lady’s car at work who was disabled and unable to do so herself, a few colleagues commented on how she “didn’t even look disabled”. As someone who has a completely invisible disability which I never mention in my workplace, this was so frustrating and a little upsetting I won’t lie. We’re moving forwards, but not far enough in my opinion.

    -pixieskiesblog.wordpress.com xo

    1. Thank you! It’s a shame that comments like that are so universally accepted in our society, like people have the right to judge others for things that they cannot see. I’m sorry that you had to hear that, as someone with an invisible disability yourself. I’m sure she really appreciated you helping her to fill up her car! I agree with you in terms of moving forwards, too. There’s definitely more that could be done to create a more equal society.

  3. Thank you for writing this. I’m taking a lot away from this post. I’m really sorry to hear about what happened at the dentist. I really admire you for sharing that story with us. I think it’s great that you’re raising awareness around this issue. Incredible post.

  4. This is something very important that needs to be discussed. I love how you address the issue. My brother has Asberger’s and to me, he is different but he still a person who can do many things by himself. To me, he is normal but he is my brother and best friend (We are year and some months apart). But I am always afraid if he will be treated different because of his disability. If he can get a job can leave by himself (he been thinking of getting a place by himself), and etc. I think there should be more talks in communities to let people know people with disabilities are a-ok and should be seen equal to everyone else. Thanks for the post.

    1. Thank you; I’m glad you agree that it’s something we need to be talking about more, especially in Western societies where the idea of someone being disabled is frowned upon or seen as something someone can fix themselves of being. It doesn’t always work like that and like you said, people need to know that people are equal regardless of their disability! Thank you for taking the time to leave such an nice comment.

  5. Great post, such excellent points made particularly about “invisible” disabilities and how awkward it can be to “prove” additional support/allowances are needed.

  6. This is such a fantastic post, Rebekah. That dentist sounds AWFUL. That’s no way to treat somebody! Ugh. Sorry you had to go through that, and well done for sharing your stories so you can educate others. Your writing is so important. 😊

    1. Thank you, Ruth! That means a lot of you to say. That dentist definitely wasn’t in the right. I hope they’ve had some more training in the years it’s been since I’ve seen them, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they hadn’t.

  7. Ableism is a very real issue and I completely agree with everything you have said. With my husband being very sick, it opened our eyes to how difficult it must be for people with an invisible illness or disability. Especially when it comes to getting the support you need. Be that financial or by any other means…

    He had stage 4 cancer and has had 2 transplants. He is NOT allowed around people, therefore, he is NOT allowed to work. But, apparently he wasn’t sick or disabled enough. Despite the fact he can barely walk up the stairs unaided. It was disgusting. So I CANNOT imagine how hard it must be for others who are in a worse or more disadvantaged physical position.

    “Spastic” and “retard” are words that make my skin crawl. If I hear it as an insult, as I would with “gay” the “n word” or any other derogatory term, I lose my sh*t. I won’t tolerate it in any way shape or form and wish others would follow suit. It needs to be stamped out and is as serious as racist, sexist, homophobic or Islamophobic comments.

    This post has actually got me really worked up because I cannot believe in this day and age, 2018, that this utter bullsh*t still happens and I am so, so sorry you are subjected to it on a daily basis!

    Laura ✰ laurahasablog.co.uk

    1. Thank you for taking the time to share your husband’s story of ableism. It really isn’t fair that he’s being discriminated against by the DWP and other services aimed to support people, but it isn’t something I find difficult to believe. Unfortunately we’re living in a society here in the UK that favours those who are seen as “useful” by taking money away from the most vulnerable. I hope you’re able to work something out to get your husband the support he needs. In my experience, charities are usually the best at getting you the support you need, especially local ones.

      I’m completely the same when it comes to derogatory terms being used as an insult, or at all really. I don’t care if I get called a snowflake or social justice warrior; those people need to learn that using those terms is NOT okay! It definitely needs to be stamped out in the same way as other comments, I agree.

  8. This is really eye-opening. Thanks to Twitter, I was able to have a crash course on ableism but this is just next level. I’m so sorry for what you’ve gone through in that dentist appointment. No one deserves to be treated that way.

    1. Twitter is extremely helpful when it comes to educating yourself about all things disability, so I’m glad it was able to help you understand ableism. I’m glad this article was eye-opening, too. That dentist appointment is definitely something I’m not in a hurry to repeat! Thankfully I’ve found a new dentist since then.

    1. No, don’t feel bad! A lot of people haven’t heard of this term before. I hadn’t either before I received my own diagnosis just under three years ago. It’s not a great experience, but it’s in the minority, which is something. I’ve received a lot more support than hate in the three years I’ve been blogging, which is definitely something I appreciate.

  9. This is an incredible piece. My son has autism but I hadn’t considered the prejudice as ableism. And now I know i feel empowered. Thank you.

    1. Thank you so much! Not a lot of people do, and like I mentioned in the post, it’s not something I had even heard of before I received my own diagnosis. I’m glad my post was able to empower you! How lovely of you to say.

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