3 Ableisms: Part 1 - Well-Meaning Ableism

Ideas topic icon
Yesterday, I proposed that there are 3 main categories of disability prejudice or “Ableism”: Well-Meaning Ableism, Systemic Ableism, and Asshole Ableism. Today I’ll try to describe the first category, Well-Meaning Ableism.

“Well-Meaning Ableism” is the idea that the ableist thoughts or actions in question are motivated not by hostility, but by misguided good will. I would also include unexamined assumptions; it has never occurred to the Well-Meaning Ableist that their beliefs or practices might be off-base or offensive. They often think that their beliefs about disability are progressive, when in fact they may be two or three decades out of date. Also, while they are well meant, they are based on faulty assumptions about living with disabilities and what people with disabilities actually care about most.


- Referring to us as “differently abled” or “hand-capable” because “disability sounds too negative”.

- Using the word “retarded” to describe anyone or anything weak, boring, or uncool. (Might be “Asshole Ableism” … I’m not sure).

- Describing disabled people as “wheelchair-bound,”  “victims” of disabling conditions, or intellectually disabled adults as “at a mental age of 8 years old”.

- Giving a disabled friend the ultimate compliment: “I don’t think of you as disabled”.

- Unquestioning, incurious support for sheltered workshops, nursing homes, “special schools”, and any disability charity, no matter what their philosophy or rhetoric.

- Angrily confronting a driver parked in a handicapped space because he walks away from his car, without thinking that he may have a hidden disability.

- Collecting and sharing “Inspiration Porn” … photos and videos about disabled people, with “inspiring” messages or captions.

This is the one kind of ableism that most people agree exists. Even some disabled people operate on the assumption that all of the real-life disability prejudice or “ableism” they experience is due to misinformation, honest mistakes, or lack of proper “disability awareness”, not hostility. Well-Meaning Ableism is also often thought to be more annoying than harmful. That said, the persistence of these erroneous ideas and habits can itself be debilitating when experienced over a whole lifetime. They also indirectly help preserve "Systemic Ableism", and leave room for more the  more covert and sinister notions I have decided to call “Asshole Ableism”.

Tomorrow, I’ll look at Systemic Ableism … which, though also largely unintentional, maintains literal barriers to mobility, independence, and self-sufficiency.

Let me know if I’ve got any of these wrong, or you can think of better examples.