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Thoughts on Ableism in America Today

  • Published: 2014-08-17 (Revised/Updated 2016-03-23) : Author: Thomas C. Weiss : Contact: Disabled World
  • Synopsis: Thomas C. Weiss writes on ableism in America today including federal and state policies.

Quote: "In the United States of America, the leadership - whether it is on local, state, or federal levels, has no trouble with pointing fingers at say, China or North Korea, and complaining about human rights."

Main Document

'Ableism,' involves the discrimination against, failure to include, or misguided perceptions of non-disabled persons in regards to those of us who do experience forms of disabilities - whether the disabilities we experience are visible or not. Despite efforts such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, the signing of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD, still not ratified by the U.S. Government), and other efforts, ableism still certainly continues to exist in America. In fact - ableism exists on so many levels in America this one article cannot possibly approach all of them.

Ableism means the idea that common everyday words should be considered offensive to persons with certain disabilities and disorders. It may also be referred to as disability discrimination, physicalism, handicapism, and disability oppression. It is also sometimes known as disablism, although there is some dispute as to whether ableism and disablism are synonymous, and some people within disability rights circles find the latter term's use inaccurate. Discrimination faced by those who have or are perceived to have a mental disorder is sometimes called mentalism rather than ableism.

In the UK, disability discrimination became unlawful as a result of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and, later, the Disability Discrimination Act 2005.

Until the 1970s, ableism in the United States was often codified into law. For example, in many jurisdictions, so-called "ugly laws" barred people from appearing in public if they had diseases or disfigurements that were considered unsightly.

As things are in America right now, ableism is potentially the very last thing on many American's minds. The same is true for the U.S. Government, which currently has the laziest and most unproductive Congress in decades. The people of America as a whole, whether they experience a form of disability or not, have to deal with the NSA, the TSA, the endless warmongering of the leadership and financial hardship on a daily basis, making issues such as inclusion, the CRPD, and even basic human rights apparent, 'non-issues,' to the leadership of this nation. One has to wonder when the chaos will end.

U.S. Government Policy

The United States Federal Government hires a great many people with disabilities; does this mean the U.S. Government is, 'inclusive' I suggest it does not. Please examine the representatives of the U.S. Government, both in the House and the Senate, and ask yourself if you are equally represented as a person with disabilities. Ask yourself why there are not more openly disabled representatives in America, considering the fact that People with Disabilities are the largest minority population in this nation. Then ask yourself if there is a deeply-rooted ableism present within the consciousness of politics in America.

Chart showing ableism in relation to U.S. Government
About This Image: Chart showing ableism in relation to U.S. Government
The world is reaching for ratification of the CRPD, yet America's politicians continue to bicker over ratification of this vital Convention. While many nations around the world have ratified the CRPD, the U.S. Government has not. I can only view this as an ableistic perspective that continues to demean People with Disabilities around the world today. Congress is more interested in receiving a raise than it is in the rights of the nation's largest minority population.

The CRPD clearly states in Article 28 that we, as People with Disabilities, have a right to an adequate standard of living and social protection. Yet the U.S. Government has no issue whatsoever with continuing to allow the Social Security Administration to keep people who experience forms of disabilities on poverty level incomes. The government has no issue with continuing to watch as the unemployment level of people with disabilities remains the highest, as it always has been. Can I be blamed for viewing this as ableism on the parts of America's leadership? It seems to be government policy.

State Policy

States in America continually whine and pule over the costs related to Medicaid, yet are unwilling to change the ableistic perspectives that keep so many People with Disabilities living in poverty - a plain example of ableism. While state leadership continues to attend parties where fancy foods are served; while this, 'leadership,' continues to use tax dollars to buy everything from the best clothing to snazzy vehicles - people who experience forms of disabilities in states in America find ourselves unemployed, worried about Medicaid, living in poverty, as well as being forced to make a choice between the lesser of two evils when it comes time to vote.

I call this, 'ingrained ableism.' The ableism on the parts of state and other government leaders is so ingrained that changing it appears to be a very long road to travel. When you witness a state or other government leader speaking about disability, many times words such as, 'inspirational,' or other ableistic terminology such as, 'wheelchair-bound,' seems to appear repeatedly. The ableism is so ingrained that you will find state leadership mentioning disability issues only when they are thrust upon these, 'leaders,' to the point where the issues cannot be ignored.

Keeping People with Disabilities who live in the states of America impoverished appears to be the policy of states. The section 8 housing programs in America, programs that a great many people who experience forms of disabilities depend upon for example, are so hard to participate in because there simply are not enough homes or apartments funded by the program. What this means is that People with Disabilities living in states in America find ourselves having to group together just to find a place to live. Not only is this a clear violation of Article 28 of the CRPD, it screams of an ableistic perspective among the leadership within states in America. Yet heaven forbid the Governor of a state in America go without a new suit, or a limousine to travel in.

Perhaps the government leadership in states should be placed on, 'programs,' that are underfunded, under-supported and neglected. It might help them to understand just how deeply-rooted their ableistic perspectives truly are. Ask yourself if you have ever been aware of a state governor with a form of disability. Ask yourself if the leadership in your state is reflective of the numbers of People with Disabilities living in your state. Then ask yourself if this is prejudicial, discriminatory, or lacks inclusion.

Local Government Policy

The recent killing of a young man by police, a young man who was unarmed, finds America examining just why the police departments of this nation are equipped as if they are going to fight a war. While this young man from Ferguson may or may not have had a form of disability (I simply do not know, the Ferguson police didn't either), one thing is abundantly clear. The actions of the Ferguson police loudly proclaimed that they just didn't give a damn whether anyone in that community did have a disability or not. The police tossed tear gas in people's yards; they shot rubber bullets at anyone who was not dressed like a combat-ready Marine.

In other words - the Ferguson police assumed that everyone in Ferguson was able-bodied. They assumed that people were not disabled in any way and could withstand the blaring 140+ decibels produced by their sound cannon. They assumed, with an incredibly ableistic perspective, that no one in Ferguson experienced a form of disability and could withstand their combat techniques of hatred. The other thought that crosses my mind is that the police simply didn't care.

Cities in America have police departments with serious military equipment from war. With no regard for the forms of disabilities people in America do experience, these police departments have no issue with treating us as if we are, 'animals.' Again - this is ableism at its worst. The police will not hesitate to tear gas, sound cannon, bean bag shoot, or even kill people with disabilities and they do not really care if you as a person with disabilities do have a disability. To the police you are an, 'animal,' you are a, 'terrorist.'

Local government in America also has no issue with discriminating against People with Disabilities when it comes to access to buildings, resources, transportation, and a great many other issues we care about. It is the year 2014 and the city I live in is still putting in curb cuts. We are perceived as being second-class citizens, simply because we experience forms of disabilities.

Even from a visible disabilities perspective, examine the populations of those who have jobs in your city and ask yourself if the proportions are correct. Ask yourself if the working population is representative of those who live in your city, then ask yourself why there are so many people who experience forms of disabilities who remain long-term unemployed. Clear prejudice and discrimination continues to exist and comprises an ableism that is unacceptable in what is supposed to be a civil and inclusive society.

Interactions with Individuals who are Not Disabled

The People of America as a whole are becoming more aware of the fact that disability can affect anyone at any time. People in this nation are starting to understand that even though we experience forms of disabilities, we are indeed people first. Yet for too many people in America, a very deep-seated base of hatred and prejudice persists.

Personally, I have encountered a great many people without forms of disabilities whose hearts are definitely in the right place. Unfortunately, subjects such as Disability History, Disability Culture and Disability Awareness are not taught in public schools - plain ableism if I have ever witnessed it. Even with their hearts in the right place, many non-disabled persons simply do not have the education they need to understand those of us who experience forms of disabilities, whether those disabilities are visible or not.

Chart showing ways to fight ableism in America
About This Image: Chart showing ways to fight ableism in America
I hesitate to present this example of prejudice and hate to you, but it demonstrates just how deeply-seated these things are in some of the minds of people in America. I was with a person just a couple of days ago, attempting to remove a tree stump from my own back yard. He is an overall good person, he was raised during a time in America where prejudice and hate were the norm. He was cutting at the tree stump and singing:

"Daniel Boone was a man,
He was a big, strong man.
But the bear was bigger,
So he ran like a (N-word),
Up a tree."

Despite the horrifying racial implications of what this guy was singing, there are some clear ableistic ones as well. Not only was Daniel Boone a strong man - he was a big, strong man. Daniel Boone, 'ran,' up a tree. Daniel Boone was apparently a good ole' fashioned non-disabled white male.

In the United States of America, the leadership - whether it is on local, state, or federal levels, has no trouble with pointing fingers at say, China or North Korea, and complaining about human rights. The U.S. Government has no trouble with suggesting to the rest of the world that it is somehow better in relation to People with Disabilities because of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The U.S. Government takes great pride in the fact that it has signed the CRPD, yet has not ratified it. I question whether the U.S. Government has the right to point fingers at other nations.

Where the deeply-rooted ableism in America is concerned, our greatest hope may very well be through education. Many people without disabilities at the moment grew up in this nation hearing little prejudicial ditties such as the one above. Many non-disabled persons in America have no concept of what Disability History, Culture or Disability Studies are. Plainly, if ableism in America is ever to change, these subjects must be taught in public schools. Ignorance drives ableism.

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