What is ableism anyway?

I’ve always felt a bit weird about the word ableism. It feels a bit of a non-word. It hurts more than what it sounds like when said aloud. When I was younger I thought it was a politically charged and angry word to use. But as I got older I realised how much ableism was simmering in my life. 

When people ask me what ableism is, the way I like to describe it is – an attitude, action or behaviour that leads to negative consequences for a disabled person. It’s difficult because sometimes it’s hard to describe and to pinpoint but it’s everywhere. Much like other (and intersectional) minorities have said they experience regarding “isms”.

Unfortunately some people just don’t want to understand it. 

Ableism can be a snigger from a man down the street, a pat on the head from a senior work colleague or it can be outright physical abuse from a dangerous person. No matter what the example, each one stays with you. It can build until sometimes it’s all you see or feel. 

Ableism can also be institutional and inbuilt into our society. It’s the way that cash machines and tills are made for people who are standing (albeit taller than 5ft). Or it’s the HR online training you get which tells you how to sit and stand for “better and healthier posture and lifestyle”. There are signs telling you to “be proactive! Take the stairs not the lift!”. It’s even the “accessible” door round the back behind the smelly bins because people just don’t prioritise a welcoming environment for disabled people. 

Ableism can be found in at least one part of my day. Sometimes I choose to ignore it. Sometimes I challenge it. And sometimes I’m just a bit bloody tired of it. But I thought I’d start this series to get the convo going. The only way to truly tackle this (I believe) is for everyone to understand it, recognise it and challenge it – together. So I really hope this series on ableism is useful to others. Please do share this on your socials if you find it useful and tag me in it so I can say thanks!