To discuss a social phenomenon – such as ableism – we need to have a good grasp on the meaning of the word. The Merriam-Webster dictionary online defines ableism as ‘discrimination or prejudice against individuals with disabilities’, adding that the first known use was in 1981. OED adds that the word is modeled after “racism” or “sexism” and that it originated in the US. Well, the key word in the definition of ableism is ‘disabilities’. WHO defines ‘disabilities’ as ‘an umbrella term covering impairments, activity limitations and participation restrictions’ and adds that ‘it is an interaction between individuals with a health condition (e.g. cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, depression)’. Let us look for the causes of ableism.
As the definition of the word ‘disabilities’ itself points out, there are many varied disabilities. A single person might suffer from several of them, eg. cerebral palsy and deafness or autism – it is called ‘multiple disability’. Therefore, the term ‘disabled’ – ie. ‘a person suffering from a disability’ – is not as clear-cut as it might seem. The fact that the disabilities are so varied means that the disabled need different adjustments. However, because some of the adjustments concern disabilities which are not immediately noticeable (eg. deafness, cognitive impairments), the majority group does not understand their purpose. This lack of understanding and knowledge causes stereotypes and myths to spring up (eg. ‘deafness can be cured’ or ‘a child with cerebral palsy must be mentally retarded’). These urban legends, in turn, are the direct cause of ableism – manifesting itself, for example, as unwillingness to let the children mix with their disabled peers.
To sum up, ableism has many varied causes, or rather a whole chain of them. Directly, it is caused by stereotypes, just as other –isms are. However, the causes of the stereotypes are different than for example, the causes of racist stereotypes.
I can’t agree with the thesis presented on FDW that ‚ableism kills’, nor can I agree with people who say ‚every time adjustments are not made = ableism’. The fact is, the able are the majority of the population and the disabled are the minority, so the disabled cannot expect the entire world to be remade to fit them.
Also, who would the world fit then? The people on crutches? On wheelchairs? The ones with a white cane? The ones with color blindness? With deafness? Or someone else? The term ‚disabled’ covers so many different people…