Ableism: A Form of Discrimination

Ableism is an extremely widespread way of thinking in the Western world. However, it not only reflects misinformation and ignorance, it also damages the social fabric. But, what is it and why's it so harmful? Find out here.
Ableism: A Form of Discrimination

Written by Edith Sánchez

Last update: 07 June, 2023

Ableism is a negative prejudice against people who have a disability or functional diversity. Those who adhere to this mode of thought believe that everyone must either conform to the norms and habits of the majority or be excluded.

Unfortunately, ableism is one of the most widespread forms of discrimination. Sadly, many people see the world from this perspective, especially because the idea of a competitive society predominates, in which the strongest prevail. There are even many who don’t believe that these ideas are a form of exclusion, but a kind of ‘natural selection’.

People who exhibit this prejudice consider disability to be an ‘error’. They believe that everything that deviates from the majority norm or accepted normality is a defect and not a manifestation of diversity in the same way as ethnicity, gender, or sexual preferences. This ideology is an obstacle to building equitable societies.

“Like any ideology, ableism is expressed in language. It will be a language that, on the one hand, will disqualify all those people who are going to carry out non-standardized activities and those who present bodily attributes that are far from this ideal of a normative body.”

~ Mareño Sempertegui ~

Ableism and discrimination

Ableism isn’t a theory or a doctrine, but an ideology. It’s a system of beliefs and practices in which there’s only one way of understanding the human body and its relationship with the environment. The basis of this ideology is that certain capacities are more valuable than others, Therefore, those who don’t possess them are seen as inferior.

The capacities that are estimated as superior are the majority or, rather, those that are valued by the market within the framework of production. The ableists believe these abilities should be universal and others have no value. As a consequence of this, they judge others based on whether or not they possess such attributes.

Basically, ableism separates people into two groups: those who are productive in terms of the formal market and those who aren’t. From this point of view, those who don’t fully conform to the prevailing productivity model become undesirable people. At the same time, their wants and needs are ignored. This establishes barbaric discrimination.

The expression of ableism

According to an article published in Actas de Coordinación Sociosanitaria,  multiple, compound, and intersectional discrimination exists. The first occurs when the individual experiences several episodes of discrimination, due to various factors that can arise at any time. The second combines the discriminatory elements in a particular case, creating additional difficulty.

The third discrimination is the intersectional kind, in which all the discriminating factors act simultaneously. For example, it occurs in people with disabilities who have low levels of education, because it’s difficult for them to access academic training. In the long term, this affects their incorporation into the labor market. In turn, it translates into social prejudices.

An article published in the Revista Argentina de Educación Superior states there are two manifestations of ableism at the educational level. On the one hand, there’s the invention of the ‘average student’, and on the other, the ‘disability problem’ (also invented). This maintains ableist ideology.

“Internalized ableism is a health and well-being problem that materializes in numerous complex psychological, social, and physical consequences.”

~ Jóhannsdóttir, Egilson & Haraldsdóttir ~

Capacity and functionality

One of the most questionable points of ableism is that, in this ideology, the term capacity is confused with functionality. An article published in the journal, Política y Sociedad specifies that capacity refers to the aptitude to carry out something, while functionality refers to the possibility of advancing an action, in a specific and useful way for others.

For example, an individual may possess the ability to write beautiful poems, but this might not be considered functional as it doesn’t yield direct benefits in a certain form of production or market. A poem might question these realities or create new sensitivities in the face of them. In fact, poetry reveals life, but it doesn’t make production faster or more efficient.

Today, we speak of people with different abilities instead of  ‘people with disabilities’. An article published in Art and Identity Politics claims that, due to their limitations, people with disabilities spend their lives recovering the opportunities that others enjoyed from the beginning. This ranges from schooling and employment to leisure and enjoyment.

For instance, a blind person is unable to do certain things. However, as evidenced by thousands of examples, there are many things that they can do. What they can’t do is work in an ordinary factory.

Functional diversity: a way of coping with ableism

Functional diversity is a concept that’s gaining strength, particularly in confronting ableism. The term was proposed by the humanist, Javier Romañach Cabrero, in 2005. It’s defined as the phenomenon by which people have different capacities from each other and even present great differences in themselves throughout life.

From the foregoing, it follows that capabilities aren’t a static and immutable reality, but rather a dynamic sphere in constant transformation. Therefore, just as cultural and sexual diversity exists, it’s also plausible to speak of functional diversity. Societies shouldn’t be uniform, but accept these differences, since they’re enriching.

The foregoing is even more compelling considering that machines are already replacing humans in many tasks. It doesn’t mean that we’ll all become disabled in the face of these devices, but rather that we need to develop new capacities in the face of them. For this reason, many believe that ableism is an ideology destined to disappear.

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This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.