Ableism is so pervasive and normalised in society that many struggle to identify it, even persons with disabilities. Many of us still have ableist views and use ableist language without realising it. This is because many of us “learn about disability mostly from non-disabled parents, and / or non-disabled doctors, therapists, and teachers” (Pulrang, 2020).
Because ableism is so ingrained in every aspect of our daily living and in the language we use, it can be hard and unsettling to learn that some of the things we think or say are oppression of persons with disabilities, even when we do not have such intentions.
We recognise that unlearning ableism and learning to embrace disability culture is a continuous process. We also recognise that this is a process and a journey that a person takes on their own will. Hence, a person’s understanding and reflection about ableism is only so far as the person is willing to allow themselves to explore and reflect upon.
If you are reading this page, thank you for wanting to unlearn ableism, and thank you for wanting to do better. You have taken the first step to being aware of ableism.
However, we do not have all the answers for you because we ourselves are unlearning ableism. We can only share some insights about what might be helpful to unlearn ableism.
It can be hard to accept that we have been ableist in our thoughts, words and actions. However, it is important to recognise that collectively we have learned or internalised ableism from being a part of society. And doing so can help us to take proactive steps to unlearn and dismantle ingrained ableism.
Society as a whole are not listening enough to persons with disabilities. As much as things have improved, many still refer to non-disabled experts on disability issues. Disabled people have insights from their lived experiences that are lacking from non-disabled professionals. Many disabled disability advocates are sharing their insights and experiences on social media platforms to combat ableism. They also discuss disability through the intersectionality lens, i.e., gender-disability, racism and disability, and gender, racism and disability.
We cannot emphasise this enough. Read that again.
Stop assuming that disability is visible. Avoid using ableist language. Talk to persons with disabilities, not talk over them with their caregivers or care partners. Always ask persons with disabilities if they need help, and do not insist on helping them if they say no. Start providing accommodations and making things accessible for persons with disabilities, including pdf documents.
If you don’t 'get it' yet, it is okay to be “work in progress”. Some of us need more time to understand a different perspective. Many of us need more time to practice new ways of thinking and speaking. What matters is that you are unlearning ableism. And for some people, they may find it helpful to forgive themselves for their past ableist actions.
As much as we try not to be ableist, we may still carry ableist views and practices that we are not aware of. And we will likely encounter situations in which others will point out our ableist thoughts, words and actions.
When this happens, it is important to not take it personally. When people with disabilities are pointing out ableism, we want to create awareness and educate others about the ways disabled people are oppressed and discriminated in their daily lives, including social interactions and disabling policies.
Some tips that you may find helpful when you are called out for ableism:
Some helpful scripts to use when you are called out for being ableist: (written by Kaylene George)
However, the most important step is the next one: Take Action
Now that you understand how you might have been or still are ableist, strive to do better. Move beyond awareness and understanding, and take action.
Find out how you can change how you do things in your school, workplace, neighbourhood, the communities you belong in, as well as in your social media posts and chat groups.
*Note: Resources linked are in English, unless stated otherwise.
Unlearning ableism – a key step to improving our Social Justice work by Jodi Williams
10 Answers to Common Questions People Ask When Being Called Out for Using Ableist Language by Rachel Cohen-Rottenburg
5 Ways to Unlearn Ableism by whatisableism.tumblr.com
10 Ways to Avoid Everyday Ableism by Erin Tatum
6 Forms of Ableism We Need to Retire Immediately by Julie Zeilinger
Dealing with Medical Ableism by Andrew Pulrang