Simply put, ableism is discrimination or bias against a person with a disability. About 20% of us have some sort of disability. Therefore, ableism is a construct in our society that we cannot remove too soon. The problem is that it is deeply rooted in our vocabulary and in our subconscious. We need to stop viewing people with disabilities as defective and different (in a negative light). After all, we all have similarities and differences. In other words, we must do away with the idea that we need to be “fixed” and that we have no gift or talent to offer others. The ablest ideal allows us to be marginalized, discriminated against and treated as though we have far less value than nondisabled people. (Zellwinger, 2015) This figure will continue to rise as those born between 1946 – 1964 continue to age.
As a society, we often fail to offer full accessibility beyond getting in the front door – wheelchair ramps. After all, are wheelchair ramps, larger restrooms, curb cuts, larger dressing rooms etc. a huge bother for nondisabled people? Other accommodations can also include “braille, seeing-eye dogs/assistant dogs, ergonomic workspaces, easy to grip tools, closed captions … class note-takers, recording devices for lectures” and other services and accommodative devices or equipment. Lack of these restrict our autonomy and make us more dependent on others. Not only that, it takes away from our well-being and self-esteem. We begin to feel like a “burden.” More than that, a person with a disability often does not always have full access to healthcare. How does a person in a wheelchair get on an exam table? How does a nonverbal person communicate their problems and medical needs without a caregiver there? Medical providers need to be more aware of these difficulties (Zellwinger, 2015)
The language of ableism leads to both individual oppression as well as societal oppression as a whole. Inclusion should be the goal. Such pejorative terms include: mentally retarded, moron, high functioning, incapacitated person etc. I realize that many of these terms are used to describe a condition, or level of a condition, but more work needs to be done to find and use language with a more positive connotation. As I have said previously, I prefer the term “challenged” because a challenge does not have a negative feeling; it is just something to be dealt with or overcome. Finally, it is very important to remember that not disabilities are visible, however, that does not make them any less real.
People with disabilities should have the same rights to housing, employment, medical care, and educational access as anyone else who is considered nondisabled. In other words, they should be treated with respect and humanity individually and referring to them as a group. People with disabilities deserve to lead the best life possible.
I have been pouring countless hours into school these past seven years. I am about to start my field hours to finish my master’s degree in Marriage & Family Therapy. I hope and pray that I will be seen as a capable person and not only as an inspirational person with limited abilities. It did not work out well for my BA degree in Human Services Degree because I cannot drive or do CPR. However, I CAN do more than most people think I can; all that I am asking for is the opportunity to prove it!