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Ableism (/ˈbəlɪzəm/; also known as ablism,[1] disablism (Brit. English), anapirophobia, anapirism, and disability discrimination) is discrimination and social prejudice against people with disabilities or who are perceived to have disabilities. Ableism characterizes persons as defined by their disabilities and as inferior to the non-disabled.[2] On this basis, people are assigned or denied certain perceived abilities, skills, or character orientations.

There are stereotypes, generally inaccurate, associated with either disability in general, or with specific disabilities (for instance a presumption that all disabled people want to be cured, that wheelchair users necessarily have an intellectual disability, or that blind people have some special form of insight) [3]. These stereotypes in turn serve as a justification for ableist practices and reinforce discriminatory attitudes and behaviors toward people who are disabled.[4] Labeling affects people when it limits their options for action or changes their identity.[5]

In ableist societies, people with disabilities are viewed as less valuable, or even less than human. The eugenics movement of the early 20th century would be considered an example of widespread ableism. The mass murder of disabled people in Nazi Germany's Aktion T4 would be an extreme example of ableism.

Ableism can also be better understood by reading literature published by those who experience disability and ableism first-hand. Disability Studies is an academic discipline that is also beneficial to explore to gain a better understanding of ableism.


Originated from -able (in disable, disabled) and -ism; first known use in 1985–1990.[6][7]


Nazi GermanyEdit

In 1939 Hitler signed the secret euthanasia program decree, Aktion T4, which authorized the killing of selected patients with chronic neurological and psychiatric disorders. This program killed about 70,000 people with disabilities; under public pressure it was officially halted by Hitler in 1941 but it was unofficially continued out of the public eye, killing an additional 200,000 lives until the end of Hitler's reign in 1945.[8]

United KingdomEdit

A poster of the British suffrage movement, positioning "lunatics" and "convicts" as deserving no vote, in contrast to women. Disablism and pro-eugenics ideas were often found in suffrage rhetoric.

In the UK, disability discrimination became unlawful as a result of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, and the Disability Discrimination Act 2005. These were later superseded, retaining the substantive law, by the Equality Act 2010. The Equality Act 2010 brought together protections against multiple areas of discriminatory behavior (disability, race, religion and belief, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, age and pregnancy - the so-called 'protected characteristics').[citation needed] Under EA2010 there are prohibitions addressing several forms of discrimination: 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).[citation needed]

The legal definition of disability used in the law 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 specifically included; a handful (such as drug and alcohol addictions) are specifically excluded.

United StatesEdit

Before the 1800s, perspective of disability was often in a religious lens. Individuals with disability were seen as evil or possessed by the devil.[9][unreliable source?] Much like many minority groups, disabled Americans were often segregated and denied certain rights for a majority of American history.[10] In the 1800s shift from a religious view to a more scientific view took place and caused more individuals with disabilities to be examined.[11] Public stigma began to change after World War II when many Americans returned home with disabilities and physical handicaps. In the 1960s, following the civil rights movement in America, the world began the disabled rights movement. The movement was intended to give all individuals with disabilities equal rights and opportunities. 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.[12]

Rehabilitation Act of 1973Edit

Section 504 and other sections of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 enacted into law certain civil penalties for failing to make public places comply with access codes known as the ADA Access Guidelines (ADAAG). These laws prohibit direct discrimination against disabled people in government programs, employment, public transit and public accommodations like stores and restaurants.

Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act of 1984Edit

The Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act was passed to promote the fundamental right to vote by improving access for handicapped and elderly individuals to registration facilities and polling places for Federal elections by requiring access to polling places used in Federal elections and available registration and voting aids, such as instructions in large type [13]

Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988Edit

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.

Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990Edit

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) was passed on July 26, 1990 during the George H. W. Bush administration and amended on January 1, 2009. The act gave individuals with disabilities civil rights protections.[14]

Individuals with Disabilities Education ActEdit

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a four-part (A-D) piece of American legislation that ensures students with a disability are provided with Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) that is tailored to their individual needs. IDEA was previously known as the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EHA) from 1975 to 1990. In 1990, the United States Congress reauthorized EHA and changed the title to IDEA (Public Law No. 94-142). Overall, the goal of IDEA is to provide children with disabilities the same opportunity for education as those students who do not have a disability.


In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act was put in place to prohibit private employers, state and local government, employment agencies and labor unions from discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities in job applications, when hiring, firing, advancement in workplace, compensation, training, and on other terms, conditions and privileges of employment.[15] The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, also known as the EEOC also plays a part in fighting against ableism by being responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of the person's race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.[16] Despite legislation to reduce disability discrimination, roughly 13.3 million Americans with disabilities report difficulty finding a job.[17]


Ableism often makes the world unwelcoming, and inaccessible to people with disabilities—especially in schools. An ableist would assert that children with disabilities need to assimilate to normative culture. For example, a student who experiences a disability needs to read text instead of listening to a tape recording of the text. In the past, schools have focused too much on fixing the disability, but due to progressive reforms, schools are now focused on minimizing the impact of a student’s disability, and giving support, skills, and more opportunities to live a full life. Moreover, schools are required to maximize access to their entire community.[18] In 2004, Congress made into law the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which states that free and appropriate education is eligible to children with disabilities with insurance of necessary services.[19] Congress later amended the law, in 2015, to include the Every Student Succeeds Act, which guarantees equal opportunity for people with disabilities full participation in society, and the tools for overall independent success.


Disabilities are not only misrepresented in the media but often underrepresented as well. These common ways[which?] of framing disability are heavily criticized for being dehumanizing and failing to place importance on the perspectives of persons with disabilities. While roughly 20 percent of the population is disabled, only 2 percent of characters played in television and film have a disability.[20] 95 percent of the time, disabled characters are played by actors and actresses who are not disabled.[21]

Disabled villainEdit

One common form of media depiction of disability is to portray villains with a mental or physical disability. Lindsey Row-Heyveld notes, for instance, "that villainous pirates are scraggly, wizened, and inevitably kitted out with a peg leg, eye patch, or hook hand whereas heroic pirates look like Johnny Depp's Jack Sparrow."[22] The disability of the villain is meant to separate them from the average viewer and dehumanize the antagonist. As a result, stigma forms surrounding the disability and the individuals that live with it.

Inspiration pornEdit

Inspiration porn is the use of people with disabilities performing ordinary tasks as a form of inspiration.[23] Criticisms of inspiration porn say that it distances people with disabilities from individuals who are not disabled and portrays disability as an obstacle to overcome or rehab.[24][25]

Pitied characterEdit

In many forms of media such as films and articles a person who experiences disability is portrayed as a character who is viewed as less than able, different and an "outcast." Hayes & Black (2003)[1] explore Hollywood films as the discourse of pity towards disability as a problem of social, physical and emotional confinement. The aspect of pity is heightened through the storylines of media focusing on the individuals weaknesses as opposed to strengths and therefore leaving audiences a negative and ableist portrayal towards disability.

Supercrip stereotypeEdit

The supercrip narrative is generally a story of a person with an apparent disability who is able to "overcome" their physical differences and somehow accomplish an impressive task. In Thomas Hehir's "Eliminating Ableism in Education," he uses the example of a blind man who climbs Mount Everest as an example of the supercrip narrative.[26] The paralympics are another example of the supercrip stereotype, since they generate a large amount of media attention, and demonstrate disabled people doing extremely strenuous physical tasks. Although at face value, this may appear inspiring, Hehir explains that many people with disabilities can view these news stories as setting unrealistic expectations.[26] Additionally, Hehir mentions that supercrip stories imply that disabled people are required to overcome their disabilities by performing these impressive tasks in order to be seen as an equal and avoid pity from those without disabilities.[26]


A runner in the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games

Sports are often an area of society in which ableism is evident. In sports media, athletes with disabilities are often portrayed to be inferior.[27] When athletes with disabilities are discussed in the media, there is often an emphasis on rehabilitation and the road to recovery, which is inherently a negative view on the disability.[28] Oscar Pistorius is a South African runner who competed in the 2004, 2008, and 2012 Paralympics and the 2012 Olympic games in London. Pistorius was the first double amputee athlete to compete in the Olympic games.[29] While media coverage focused on inspiration and competition during his time in the Paralympic games, it shifted to questioning whether his prosthetic legs gave him an advantage while competing in the Olympic games.[30][31]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Oxford University Press, "Oxford Dictionaries Online: 'ableism'", Oxford Dictionaries Online, Retrieved 12 March 201h.
  2. ^ Linton, Simi (1998). Claiming Disability Knowledge and Identity. New York: New York University Press. p. 9.
  3. ^ "Sutherland, A.T. 'Disabled We Stand', Chapter 6 'Stereotypes of Disability', Souvenir Press, 1982" (PDF).
  4. ^ Wüllenweber, Ernst; Theunissen, Georg; Mühl, Heinz (2006). Pädagogik bei geistigen Behinderungen: ein Handbuch für Studium und Praxis (Education for intellectual disabilities: A manual for study and practice) (in German). W. Kohlhammer Verlag. p. 149. ISBN 3-17-018437-7. Retrieved January 17, 2012.
  5. ^ "Geistige Behinderung - Normtheorien nach Speck und Goffman". Retrieved 2014-05-12.
  6. ^ "Definition of ABLEISM". Retrieved 1 April 2019.
  7. ^ "ableism". Unabridged. Random House.
  8. ^ "T4 Program - Definition and History". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 1 April 2019.
  9. ^ "History Perspective of Ableism in America".
  10. ^ Faville, Andrea. "A Civil Rights History: Americans with Disabilities". Knight Chair in Political Reporting.
  11. ^ "Ableism". NCCJ.
  12. ^ "The Ugly Laws: Disability In Public". 6 September 2011. Retrieved 1 April 2019.
  13. ^ "A Guide to Disability Rights Laws". Retrieved 1 April 2019.
  14. ^ " homepage". Retrieved 2018-04-03.
  15. ^ "Employment (Title I)". Retrieved 1 April 2019.
  16. ^ "About the EEOC: Overview". Retrieved 1 April 2019.
  17. ^ "Facts About Institutional Ableism".
  18. ^ "About IDEA - Individuals with Disabilities Education Act". Retrieved 1 April 2019.
  19. ^ "Confronting Ableism - Educational Leadership". Retrieved 1 April 2019.
  20. ^ "The Ruderman White Paper on the Challenge to Create More Authentic Disability Casting and Representation on TV". Ruderman Family Foundation. Retrieved 2018-04-12.
  21. ^ Woodburn, Danny; Kopić, Kristina (July 2016). "The Ruderman White Paper on Employment of Actors with Disabilities in Television" (PDF). Ruderman Family Foundation.
  22. ^ Row-Heyveld, Lindsey (2015). "Reading Batman, Writing X-Men Superpowers and Disabilities in the First-Year Seminar" (PDF). Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition, and Culture. 15 (3). doi:10.1215/15314200-2917105. Retrieved April 19, 2016.
  23. ^ Young, Stella. "Stella Young: I'm not your inspiration, thank you very much | TED Talk". Retrieved 2015-08-19.
  24. ^ Rakowitz, Rebecca (1 December 2016). "Inspiration porn: A look at the objectification of the disabled community". The Crimson White. University of Alabama. Archived from the original on 2 December 2016.
  25. ^ Mitchell, Kate (17 July 2017). "On Inspiration Porn". Huffington Post. Retrieved 5 March 2018.
  26. ^ a b c Hehir, Thomas (2002). "Eliminating Ableism in Education". Harvard Educational Review. 72 (1): 1–33. doi:10.17763/haer.72.1.03866528702g2105. ISSN 0017-8055.
  27. ^ DePauw, K. P. (1997). The (in)visibility of disability: Cultural contexts and ‘‘sporting bodies.’’ Quest, 49, 416–430.
  28. ^ Cherney, J. L., Lindemann, K., & Hardin, M. (2015). Research in communication, disability, and sport. Communication & Sport, 3(1), 8-26.
  29. ^ Robert Klemko (10 August 2012), "Oscar Pistorius makes history, leaves without medal", USA Today, archived from the original on 11 August 2012.
  30. ^ Swartz, L., & Watermeyer, B. (2008). Cyborg anxiety: Oscar Pistorius and the boundaries of what it means to be human. Disability & Society, 23(2), 187–190.
  31. ^ Smith, L. R. (2015). The blade runner: The discourses surrounding Oscar Pistorius in the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics. Communication & Sport, 3(4), 390-410.


  • 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. doi:10.1177/10442073050160010801. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-12-28.
  • 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. ISBN 978-0-230-57928-6.
  • 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 (eds.). Teaching for diversity and social justice. 1 (2nd ed.). Taylor & Francis. ISBN 978-0-415-95199-9.
  • 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. ISBN 978-0-470-17579-8.

Further readingEdit

  • Adams, Rachel; Reiss, Benjamin; Serlin, David (2015). Keywords for Disability Studies. NYU Press. ISBN 978-1-4798-4115-8.
  • 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. doi:10.1080/09687599926055.
  • Hehir, Thomas (2005). "Eliminating Ableism in Education". In Katzman, Lauren I. (ed.). Special education for a new century. Harvard educational review. 41. Harvard Educational Review. ISBN 978-0-916690-44-1.
  • Iwasaki, Yoshitaka; Mactavish, Jennifer (2005). "Ubiquitous Yet Unique: Perspectives of People with Disabilities on Stress". Rehabilitation Counseling Bulletin. 48 (4): 194–208. doi:10.1177/00343552050480040101.
  • 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. doi:10.3102/00028312041002271. JSTOR 3699367.
  • Walter Fandrey: Krüppel, Idioten, Irre: zur Sozialgeschichte behinderter Menschen in Deutschland (Cripples, idiots, madmen: the social history of disabled people in Germany) (in German) ISBN 978-3-925344-71-8
  • Susan Schweik: The Ugly Laws: Disability in Public (History of Disability), ISBN 0-8147-8361-9
  • James K. Shaver: Handicapism and Equal Opportunity: Teaching About the Disabled in Social Studies, ISBN 978-0-939068-01-2

External linksEdit