Ableism (from able and ism) is a neologism of American coinage, since about 1981. It is used to describe discrimination against people with disabilities in favor of people who are not disabled.

An ableist society is said to be one that treats non-disabled individuals as the standard of ‘normal living’, which results in public and private places and services, education, and social work that are built to serve 'standard' people, thereby inherently excluding those with various disabilities.


The presumption that everyone is non-disabled is said to be effectively discriminatory in itself, creating built environments which are inaccessible to disabled people. Advocates of the term argue that ableism is analogous to racism and sexism in that it is a system by which mainstream society denigrates, devalues, and thus oppresses those with disabilities, while privileging those without disabilities.

In extreme cases, morality, worth and intelligence may even be equated to being able-bodied or able-minded, while disability is conflated with immorality, stupidity, and worthlessness, and disabled lives may be devalued to the point that many in the society believe that one is better off dead than living with disability. The eugenics movement of the 19th and 20th centuries, which took its most extreme form in Nazi Germany with Action T4, was a product of this belief and many believe that the ‘right to die’ movement is also an outgrowth of the ableist belief that living with disability is inherently undignified and unworthy.

Laws against discrimination

In the U.S., Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) enacted into law certain civil penalties for failing to make a public places comply with access codes known as the ADA Access Guidelines (ADAAG); this law also helped expand the use of certain adaptive devices, such as TTY’s (phone systems for the deaf/speech impaired), some computer-related hardware and software, and ramps or lifts on public transportation buses and private automobiles.

In the UK, meanwhile, the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act and Disability Discrimination Act 2005 attempts the same.

However, these laws often concentrate mainly on the civil or legal aspect of disability discrimination and neglect the cultural dimensions that are integral to the social model of disability.


Inclusion, comparatively, means that all products, services, and societal opportunities and resources are fully accessible, welcoming, functional and usable for as many different types of abilities as reasonably possible. An ableist society tends towards isolation, pity, paternalism and low self-esteem among people with disabilities, whereas an inclusive society tends toward sociability and interdependency between the able-bodied and disabled.


See also

External links

Search another word or see ableismon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature