What is Ableism?

Ableism is a type of discrimination where non-disabled people are favoured over people with a disability. It is often considered a form of social prejudice based on the mistaken belief that people with ‘typical’ abilities are superior to people living with physical or mental disabilities.

In an ableist society, it’s assumed that the ‘normal’ way of being does not include disabilities. This means that the world, with all its accommodations and services, is often designed solely to meet the needs of non-disabled people.

This creates barriers that people with disabilities must face in everyday life. Failing to incorporate accessibility into building designs and failing to make information available in accessible formats are just some examples of the day-to-day challenges people with disabilities face.

Find out more about ableism, its definition, how ableism becomes internalised and how you can help.


The Cambridge Dictionary defines ableism as:

policies, behaviours, rules, etc. that result in unfair or harmful treatment of disabled people (= people who have an illness, injury, or condition that makes it difficult for them to do things that most other people can do) and in a continued unfair advantage to people who are not disabled.

Examples of Ableism

  • Using derogatory terms or slurs to refer to people with disabilities.
  • Making assumptions about someone’s capabilities based on their disability.
  • Excluding people with disabilities from social activities and opportunities due to lack of accommodations.
  • Stereotyping individuals with disabilities as helpless or burdensome.
  • Ignoring the opinions and perspectives of people with disabilities.
  • Failing to provide reasonable accommodations in education, employment, or public spaces.
  • Underestimating the potential of someone with a disability and discouraging their aspirations.
  • Using disability as a justification for discrimination in essential services.

The Difference Between Ableism and Disablism

Both ableism and disablism describe forms of discrimination against people with disabilities, but they emphasise different aspects.

Disablism often focuses on direct discrimination against people with disabilities. This includes conscious acts of discrimination or abuse. For instance, name calling or refusing to provide reasonable accommodations or adjustments for people with disabilities without a reasonable justification.

Ableism is more of a general term used to describe the way society seems to favour people with ‘typical’ abilities as opposed to people living with disabilities. An example of ableism is how many buildings are not designed with accessibility in mind and often lack braille on signs and buttons.

Remember that many people use the two terms interchangeably.

What is Internalised Ableism?

Internalised ableism describes the impact that living in an ableist society has on an individual.

Internalised ableism refers to the acceptance, belief, or internalisation of ableist attitudes and stereotypes by individuals with disabilities themselves. It occurs when people with disabilities start to believe and embody the negative perceptions and prejudices that society holds against them. This self-directed ableism can harm a person’s self-esteem, self-worth, and overall well-being.

Here’s a deeper explanation of the consequences of this internalised ableism:

  • Acceptance of Inferiority: People with disabilities may begin to believe that they are inferior or less capable than those without disabilities due to societal conditioning and discrimination they have faced.
  • Internalised Stereotypes: Some people with disabilities might internalise negative stereotypes associated with their condition, leading them to believe they conform to these stereotypes.
  • Self-Blame and Guilt: People with disabilities may blame themselves for their condition or feel guilty about their perceived burden on others.
  • Lack of Self-Advocacy: Internalised ableism can hinder individuals from advocating for their needs and rights, as they may doubt their worthiness to receive proper accommodations.
  • Isolation and Loneliness: Internalised ableism can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness, as people may fear rejection or judgement from others.
  • Difficulty Accepting Help: Individuals might find it challenging to accept help or support from others or they may distance themselves from the disability community due to feeling shame or embarrassment.
  • Impact on Mental Health: Internalised ableism can contribute to anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues, as individuals grapple with feelings of self-doubt and negative self-perception.

Ableism in the Workplace

In the UK, discriminating against someone due to their disability in the workplace is against the law. The Equality Act in England, Scotland, and Wales, along with the Disability Discrimination Act in Northern Ireland, protects people with disabilities from discrimination and harm.

According to these laws, it is illegal to discriminate against someone based on:

  • Having a disability.
  • Perceived disability (when someone is wrongly assumed to have a disability).
  • Being connected to someone with a disability, including carers.

Find more information and resources on the Equality Act 2010. 

How You Can Help

Fighting ableism requires a collective effort from individuals, communities, and society as a whole. Here are some ways you can contribute to combating ableism and promoting a more inclusive and accessible world:

  • Challenge Your Own Biases: Reflect on your attitudes and beliefs about disability. Be aware of your ableist thoughts or behaviours and work on challenging and unlearning them.
  • Be an Ally: Stand up for and support people with disabilities. Listen to their perspectives, needs, and experiences, and amplify their voices when possible.
  • Advocate for Inclusion: Encourage and advocate for inclusive practices in all aspects of life, including education, employment, housing, and public spaces.
  • Speak Out Against Ableism: Challenge ableist language, jokes, and stereotypes when you encounter them. Use opportunities to educate others about the impact of ableism.

Looking for Support?

Here at Liaise, we provide unique residential care and supported living services designed to enrich the lives of people with a wide range of support needs.

Each Liaise supported living accommodation is unique and has its own distinct personality. These homes often feature adaptations and specialist equipment designed to meet a range of complex care needs.

The support received is flexible and always adapted to the unique needs of each individual. We provide dedicated 24/7 support in all of our residential care and supporting living accommodations.

To learn more about our support services, do not hesitate to contact our friendly team.