Disputing "Ableism"

Picture of Scrabble tiles on a rack, spelling "WORDS"

When people say “Ableism isn’t a thing,” usually typed in the comments to something posted on Facebook by a disabled person, I often wonder what the commenter actually means. Do they actually not know what ableism is supposed to be? Do they honestly misunderstand the term? Or, are they just trolling and baiting “social justice warriors?” It seems like there are several possibilities:

  • They have never heard the word before, and literally have no idea what it means.
  • They don't believe that ableism is as significant as disabled people say it is. They might admit that disabled people hear the occasional prejudiced remark, or experience overt discrimination, but they don't perceive disabled people as widely hurt or disadvantaged enough by disability prejudice to justify a specific word for it. 
  • They think that most ableism is benign, unintentional, or caused by lack of "awareness," suggesting that it is more of a social etiquette issue than a political, social justice, or identity issue.
  • They have heard the word “ableism” before, but it sounds "made up" to them, a term coined for political purposes. People like this usually feel that anything "political" is bad and dishonest.
  • They are skeptical and impatient with any talk of prejudice or discrimination, of any kind. They have contempt for the very idea of ableism the same as they do for racism, homophobia, sexism, etc. They also sometimes confuse being against the idea of ableism with being opposed to ableism itself.

A couple of years ago, I did a series of posts on ableism. I think I would define and categorize it differently now, but what I wrote then still mostly works.

[3 Kinds Of Ableism]
[3 Ableisms: Part 1 - Well-Meaning Ableism]
[3 Ableisms: Part 2 - Systemic Ableism]
[3 Ableisims: Part 3 - Asshole Ableism]