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Tackling the "isms" in the EDI spectre, two are typically forgotten—talking about ableism and disablism: Part 2.

Tackling the "isms" in the EDI spectre, two are typically forgotten—talking about ableism and disablism: Part 2.

Two are typically forgotten when tackling the "isms" in the EDI spectre—about ableism and disablism: Part 2.


This is part 2 of discussing ableism and disablism.

Part 1 discussed the importance of knowing what ableism is and provided a little bit of history as to why ableism is so common in our communities. Part 1 also started to break down the different forms of ableism, starting with minor or everyday ableism. This article will pick up and discuss major ableism and highlight the issues that individuals with disabilities may face in the workplace and how to stop being ableist in manners, attitudes, and languages.

Major Ableism

Major ableism is split into many categories, and it can constitute legislation, policy and institutional practices that mitigate the involvement of individuals with disabilities in their environments. There are many different examples of major ableism, and some will be listed below:

  • Employers, employees, and the public not complying with disability laws under the Equality Act of 2010
  • Public or private education required segregation of students with disabilities into different classes or providing no aid or accessibility support.
  • Disability access areas are not incorporated into building and transportation designs.
  • Developing and creating inaccessible social media posts and websites
  • Mocking or using disability as a punchline in-jokes, insults, or conversations
  • [Credit: this list was developed with aid from: AccessLiving.Org]


The impact of these actions and behaviours can last from birth to death and create numerous obstacles for individuals with disabilities. The issue here is this creates a vicious circle, where ableist attitudes and mannerisms are the cause for individuals with disabilities facing many types of shortcomings. However, the same individuals who publicise and regularly use ableist sentiments tend to be the same individuals who flout that in place to make environments more accessible and comfortable. Whilst there are some clear institutional shortcomings in terms of architectural design and transport accessibility. Ableism is shown to be most common at an individual level. There is fetishism and sensationalism on the left-hand side of the spectrum, believing that an individual with a disability is an exceptional circumstance when overcoming obstacles. Individuals with disabilities are judged to ableist standards of normality when normal or normality doesn’t exist. A way to change the conversational narrative is to not reduce an individual down to their disability and be available for support where they may need it. Many individuals are not able to see or speak past an individual’s disability. A call for humanisation needs to be a reminder that, above all else, no matter the circumstance, the people we interact with are human and deserve to be treated with respect.


The commonality of ableism helps us realise a few things.

Whether we can admit it or not, due to the commonality and unconscious use of ableist phrases and behaviours, some individuals may have biases towards individuals with disabilities. Many individuals have to go through a period of unlearning and relearning how to openly but respectfully communicate with individuals with disabilities. When you are unsure how to move further and communicate, asking a non-intrusive question is always an option.

Another part of unlearning is realising that any harmful biases you have internalised are just that- harmful. Individuals with disabilities are marginalised and othered by many from birth, whether it be conscious or unconscious. Realising that any biases that we have to unlearn will only benefit those it targets and for us. We become advocates and teachers for those who also need to be informed and advised on this matter.


Ableism in the workplace

Many of the points part 1 covered and some of what has been written above are inherently linked to ableist practices in the workplace. Coaching may need to be provided for management and HR staff to ensure they are briefed and informed on all the possible ability and accessibility needs an individual may have. Ensure that employees are trained, and staff are aware of micro-aggressions and that they are not directed towards any employee in the company. Ensure that all policies are developed and reviewed to ensure they are not discriminatory towards potential candidates and onboarding employees. Ensure that your office building has accessible ramps, elevators, bathrooms, desks/chairs and seating areas.

 Not all disabilities are visible, and employers must be aware of any invisible disabilities and make sure that no employees are discriminated against or prejudiced.


Misguided connections

Many people do not understand that attempting to talk to someone about their disability may not respond to your desire. If you choose to initiate a conversation with someone who has a disability- be mindful, as you do not know whether they will find a conversation on their ability and accessibility needs uncomfortable and unnecessary. What’re more many individuals consider this a personal matter and could therefore find the conversation invasive. I have learned about these types of conversations where you attempt to create a connection that ends up being woefully misguided- that people assume they have the right to ask and reduce an individual down to their disability. These types of conversations have been found common amongst strangers. No individuals have a right to own, debate and probe another about their [dis]ability.

Secondly, be mindful of how you talk about disability. There seems to be a spectrum of two extremes, and many individuals who are not informed on how to discuss ability and accessibility needs tend to fall on either extreme of the spectrum. Imagine a line on the right-hand side. There is treating [dis]ability as an obstacle, pity or tragedy. On this side of the spectrum, people cannot see past how ‘sad’ it is to have a disability and how their life must be limited. What this type of conversation does, is belittle and categorise individuals with disabilities.


Consciously averting ableist attitudes.

Here are some tips and advice to help you consciously change any conscious or unconscious ableist attitude you or others may have:

  • Do not make a habit of joking or mocking. If you catch yourself or someone else making such comments, politely correct yourself or others and explain why it is a problem.
  • Make sure you are not using facilities that are designated for individuals with disabilities. This is particularly important for disabled loos and parking, be mindful to leave a gap to ensure a wheelchair users ramp can be opened and they have access to their vehicle.
  • If you are a company manager, HR executive or c-suite level executive, have you checked to see whether your company or organisation is a disability confidant? Is your organisation adhering to the Equality Act 2010 to ensure that any candidate with an ability or accessibility needs?


I want to thank SCOPE, and Acessliving. For their informative information, I do not own this information but have credited the organisations. You can find the cited website below each section that is not my work. There are many examples that I have learnt about that has come to my attention. The benefit of sharing their knowledge and experience can help others find compassion and understand the different language, behaviours and mannerisms that can be ableist.


This has been part 2 and the final instalment of understanding ableism and disablism.