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Ableism is a form of discrimination and prejudice that targets people with disabilities. Ableism manifests in multiple ways, from milder forms like insults, harassment and bullying, to serious forms like abuse, victim blaming, torture, and murder. It is based on the discredited idea that people with disabilities are "less than human" and "unworthy of life" with them. Ableism can take more blatant forms, such as bullying, neglecting, abusing, and persecuting people with disabilities, and more subtle forms, such as talking down and patronizing disabled people, denying that they are actually disabled despite medical evidence to the contrary, and treating them like helpless children and objects of pity, instead of independent living beings.

Historical persecution of disabled people[edit]

In Nazi Germany, people with disabilities were targeted for extermination and genocides due to being seen as biologically inferior and a threat to the building of a "genetically superior" "Aryan" race. Over 300,000 people with disabilities were forcibly sterilized, and over 200,000 were massacred by death squads during the Nazi regime for having mental and physical disabilities. A German psychiatrist named Hans Asperger, for whom Asperger's syndrome is infamously named, concluded that the hyperfocused and calculating nature of his patients meant that some children were worth keeping around for the rest of Nazi society to use as "drones" and "useful idiots" for the Nazi regime, but sent many more children to a nearby concentration camp where most of them met certain death by involuntary euthanasia and execution. While the Nazis are the most extreme and horrific example of ableism, it was not uncommon for other Western countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, to promote the sterilization of disabled people during the heyday of eugenicist pseudoscience, particularly in the 1920s and 1930s.[1] Stalinists were not immune to these ideas either, as under Joseph Stalin's regime, the Soviet Union deliberately segregated disabled children from the rest of society for "standing in the way of building a socialist order", [2] and disabled people were likewise victimized and targeted for genocides by Pol Pot's primitivist regime for being unable to either work on or make the journey to collectivized farms.[3]

Linguistic ableism[edit]

Ableist language[edit]

Ableism is often understood as use of language that may be disparaging to people with disabilities, even if used to refer to a seemingly unrelated topic.[4] Among the more offensive examples is the use of the word 'retarded' as a descriptor of a person or a person's actions, and labeling political ideologies and opinions one disagrees with as "mental disorders". The strongest examples of ableist language include slurs such as "retard", "cripple", "spaz", and "midget" (Even if "spaz" in American English has long lost the offensive connotations that it has elsewhere, which has lead to some embarrassing misunderstandings.[5][6]). Some people define ableist language to be more broad, including words like "crazy," "lame," and "dumb." They argue that these words can be hurtful, and as an example, saying "anti-vaxxers are crazy" might be insulting to people with mental illnesses, who may not appreciate being compared to anti-vaxxer extremists. Other people argue that milder ableist language is not a big deal, and that it's unhelpful to act like people with disabilities have incredibly thin skins.[7]

Armchair diagnoses of public figures[edit]

People on social media sometimes enjoy trying to armchair diagnose people they don't like, and one example is the #DiagnoseTrump campaign, in which people tried to armchair diagnose Donald Trump with several mental and physical illnesses, including Alzheimer's Disease, much to the horror and dismay of people with actual mental and physical illnesses who felt very insulted by the comparison.[8][9] This rarely does much to actually harm the person's reputation and hold them to account, and mostly just throws people with disabilities under the bus for short-term gain. For its part, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) denounces armchair diagnoses of political figures, or even diagnoses by professionals so long as they haven't directly examined the person in question; the APA considers these to be a form of misusing psychiatry.Wikipedia[10]

Behavioral ableism and bullying[edit]

Treating persons with apparent disabilities as inherently deficient or incapable, even if well meaning, further affects people with disabilities even beyond their actual disability. Speaking to and treating a disabled person as if they were a helpless child disempowers and insults the person with a disability, and severely damages their quality of life, particularly as it isolates and marginalizes them from many social activities.

Legally sanctioned ableism[edit]

According to the social model of disability, the extent of disability is exaggerated or even fully created by the physical and social environment surrounding people,[11] rather than by the consequences of any actual impairment. Elevators, for example, that don't accommodate people with vision impairments are seen to be a barrier to full function. In this theory, a failure to create a physical environment suitable for all to use is a form of ableism, one that is either legally sanctioned or not addressed through well-enforced legislation. As an egregious example of such loophole, the United States of America is one of the few nations in the world that allows employers to pay disabled people less than the federal minimum wage, or nothing at all, effectively sanctioning their legal exploitation (though supporters of this will counter, with some cause, that this is what enables them to have jobs at all).[12][13]

Societal ableism and abuse[edit]

Ableism remains a huge problem at the societal level, despite several attempts to address it by law.

Fraudulent "charities" and hate groups[edit]

The existence of disabled people has spawned numerous fraudulent charities and hate groups dedicated to preventing or profiting off of their existence, often while falsely claiming to want to "help" the disabled community. One high-profile example is Autism Speaks, an ableist hate group that demonizes autistic people while using parents of autistic children as their mascots, and often justifies the outright murder of autistic children in order to "relieve the mother's burden". Blaming autistic children for all sorts of social ills from divorces, family violence, and financial ruin, the so-called "charity" isn't above telling many lies that ruin the lives of millions of autistic people.

Modern ableist eugenics[edit]

The message about disability is loud and clear: the prospect of having a disabled child is not acceptable for many prospective parents.
—Joan Hume[14]

The widespread abortion of developing babies who are likely to have disabilities often helps encourage discrimination and hatred against people who actually live with those disabilities. One report has revealed that almost 100% of Icelandic families have been pressured into aborting babies that are shown to have a high likelihood of developing Down syndrome and Autism by prenatal testing and assessments, even though some families choose to forego genetic testing.[15] Similar concerns apply to euthanasia, because while some disabled people may consider it a matter of equality to have the right to die, many are concerned that it would drive disabled people towards coerced euthanasia and physician-assisted murder, at the expense of more important needs like the provision of adequate and free healthcare and social services, when many disabled people are unable to access even basic healthcare and assistance from the government.[16] Sterilization of disabled people has not fully died out, either, despite the widespread discrediting of eugenics after the end of World War II. While some disabled people make the choice to be sterilized just like non-disabled people can, there are many cases of parents and caregivers trying to make this decision for them. A high-profile example of public ableism includes the book To Siri With Love, written by Judith Newman, in which it was revealed that she openly mocked and denigrated her autistic son, stating on one occasion that she wanted to forcibly sterilize him on his 18th birthday, and then went on to falsely claim that autistic people can never be good parents.[17][18] In addition, several US states have laws that explicitly allow disabled people to be forcibly sterilized without their consent.[19]

There is even a disgusting SCOTUS case from 1927, Buck v. Bell, in which the Court ruled that forcibly sterilizing disabled people isn't a violation of due process. The woman in that case, Carrie Buck, wasn't even seen as a danger to herself or others; she was developmentally disabled and got pregnant (speculated at the time to be the result of prostitution but now suspected to be the result of sexual abuse, which sadly is commonly done to disabled children, who are often not believed when they try to report it).

Ableist abuse and neglect[edit]

Due to the physical and social impairments associated with disabilities, children and adults with disabilities are at a substantially higher risk of being abused and neglected, especially by their parents and caregivers,[20][21][22] and they are often driven into homelessness as well.[23] Abusive people often see disabled people as "subhuman" and easy targets for exploitation, thus providing ample incentives for them to assault, torture, and murder disabled people. In addition, abusive parents mistreat and reject their children due to perceived "moral defects" and "disobedience" caused by the disability, particularly when the child is autistic, leading to a vicious cycle of punishments and child abuse. Some abusive parents outright publish books where they reveal and glorify the abuse of their disabled children. For example, the book Autism Uncensored shows the mother screaming at, bullying, and using physical violence against her young autistic son, to the point that he shows signs of severe PTSD and suicidal behaviour.[24][25]

The police also largely lack training to adequately communicate with disabled people or respond to their needs, and many police officers resort to force during encounters that often escalates into violent attacks and shootings, resulting in the deaths of several disabled people.[26] Disabled prisoners are especially vulnerable to abuse, particularly in the US criminal justice system, where they are far more likely to be exploited by correctional officers and prison gangs than the average prisoner, and they also face more severe damage from solitary confinement and other punitive practices.[27] Deaf people have also often reported the lack of sign language interpreters in hospitals, along with other cases of neglect in healthcare facilities due to poor resources and inadequate training of personnel.[28][29]

Abuse in therapy and education[edit]

Imagine if someone punished you whenever you cried when you were hurt or sad [sic]. Imagine if someone took away things in your life that made you feel better when you were hurt and uncomfortable and overwhelmed [sic].
— Eli Arduengo-Profeta describing the nature of abusive practices in Applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy for autistic children.[30]

Many disability-related therapies have received criticism from medical researchers and disability rights activists for being unproven, coercive, and even deadly. In particular, many autism-related therapies cause physical and emotional harm to autistic people, such as forcibly indoctrinating them to obey everyone without question, injecting them with dangerous chemicals, and forcing them to swallow toxic drops made out of bleach, with numerous deaths attributed to these pseudoscientific practices.[31][32][33][34][35] In another case of institutionalized ableism, in the United States of America, it is still legal for ableist individuals to use electric shocks and restraints to punish children and adults for "misbehaving", using dangerously high voltage that regularly exceeds even that of the strongest police taser and cattle prod. This abusive practice routinely occurs at the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center, a facility that is effectively ran as a prison for disabled people, with numerous deaths attributed to their negligence and constant usage of electrical shocks and other forms of abusive punishments. Despite numerous protests from disability activists, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, and the Massachusetts State Government, the center remains open thanks to political lobbying and legal corruption, although the Food and Drugs Administration has outlawed the use of electric shocks as aversives in medicine as of 2020.

Special education is not always a safe place for disabled children either, as there are many reported incidents of children subjected to forced physical restraints, such as being pinned to the floor and tied to beds and chairs, in addition to seclusion, such as being locked in a dark closet and room for an indefinite length of time, a practice that leads to physical trauma such as cuts, bruises, bone fractures and brain injuries, along with mental trauma such as PTSD for the children affected.[36][37][38][39] In particularly egregious cases, the police are called not to stop the abuse and arrest the perpetrator, but to arrest the children for "not obeying" or "not staying calm" when faced with the attacker.[40] Since disabled children depend on the adults around them to treat them well even more than non-disabled children, they often fall victim to abusive teachers in special education.

Ableist murders and media apologism[edit]

Whenever a disabled person is murdered, especially by one of their caregivers or loved ones, the media often give disproportional amounts of coverage to the murderer, sometimes calling the murder a "mercy killing" and a "final act of love."[41][42] News stories about such murder attempts often focus on the experience and viewpoints of the attempted murderers, such as when Kelli Stapleton was able to freely broadcast her story on Dr. Phil after trying to murder her autistic daughter Issy, while often ignoring the wellbeing and testimonies of the children themselves.[43] Media coverage that blames people with disabilities for being a murder victim shockingly has negative effects on the entire disabled community, often leading to a surge in further copy-cat violence and murders of disabled people, especially children.[44][45][46] Unsurprisingly, it's not uncommon for anti-vaxxers, who act like having a dead child is preferable to having an autistic child, to express sympathy and support for murderers of autistic children. In fact, several ableist murderers have expressed anti-vaccination beliefs as a motive for their crimes.[47][48]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. Unwanted Sterilization and Eugenics Programs in the United States
  4. Ten Quick Ways to Analyze Children's Books for Ableism
  8. Why The "Diagnose Trump" Hashtag Hurts People With Mental Illness
  9. An Open Letter to Congresswoman Karen Bass on #DiagnoseTrump
  10. (January 9, 2018). "APA Calls for End to 'Armchair' Psychiatry". American Psychiatric Association.
  11. Livingston 2000. When Architecture Disables: Teaching Undergraduates to Perceive Ableism in the Built Environment
  12. Can employers actually pay disabled Americans below the minimum wage?
  13. A loophole in federal law allows companies to pay disabled workers $1 an hour
  14. "Modern Eugenics Prospects". 
  15. "Has Iceland Eliminated Down Syndrome Through Abortion?". Snopes. 
  16. Craig Wallace (27 September 2017). "Euthanasia a choice for people with disability? It's a threat to our lives". The Guardian. 
  17. "Why I Believe 'To Siri With Love' By Judith Newman Is A Book That Does Incredible Damage To The Autistic Community". 
  18. "An Open Letter to HarperCollins about TO SIRI WITH LOVE". 
  19. Washington State May Make It Easier to Sterilize People With Disabilities. 
  20. Domestic Violence & People with Disabilities
  21. Abuse and Exploitation of People with Developmental Disabilities
  22. Abuse of Children with Intellectual Disability
  23. Homelessness among ill and disabled people rises 53% in a year, figures show
  24. Autism Uncensored: A Dangerous and Spirit-Crushing Book
  25. When You're Autistic, Abuse Is Considered Love
  26. How One Mother's Battle Is Changing Police Training On Disabilities
  27. US prisons hold more than 550,000 people with intellectual disabilities – they face exploitation, harsh treatment
  28. Deaf patients say Queensland hospitals are failing to provide adequate Auslan services at critical times
  29. Healthcare Language Barriers Affect Deaf People, Too.
  30. Quora: Is every kind of ABA therapy abusive?]
  31. ABA and the Thorny Problem of Control and Consent
  32. The Shocking Controversy of ABA Therapy
  33. Is chelation therapy an effective autism treatment?
  34. Parents Are Making Their Children Drink Bleach to "Cure" Them of Autism
  35. Do Not Make Your Kids Drink Bleach Chemicals To Treat Autism
  36. Abuse, Restraints and Seclusion in School
  37. Teacher's awful mistreatment of special needs child
  38. UPDATE: Mom says CCSD special education teacher abused her 4-year-old
  39. 25 Investigates: Parents kept in the dark after teacher cited for abusing two boys
  40. When Teachers Abuse Disabled Children
  41. How Murder Victims With Disabilities Get Blamed For Their Own Deaths
  42. Is Sharyl Attkisson feeling the heat over her irresponsible reporting of the Alex Spourdalakis case?
  43. The Mommy Blogger Who Tried to Kill Her Autistic Daughter Talks to Dr. Phil
  44. Homicides of people with developmental disabilities; An analysis of news stories (page 19)
  45. 2018 Anti-Filicide Toolkit
  46. There’s Something Wrong with the Way We Talk About Parents Who Murder Their Autistic Kids
  47. Polly Tommey won’t judge parents who murder their disabled children. That’s part of the problem
  48. Karen McCarron asks for new trial, claims she believed Katie would be resurrected without autism