Ableism is the practice of a society that puts less of a value on human life when someone has a disability. It is often assigned to people who have a developmental disability, but ableism can also apply to someone with physical disabilities or even a chronic mental illness. The goal of ableism is simple: to devalue people who aren’t seen as primary contributors so that their overall potential is limited.
Statistics on Ableism
1. The number of Americans who have some form of a disability: 54 million.
2. About 1 in 5 people around the world today have a diagnosed disability that is either physical, emotional, or mental in nature.
3. There is a 70% unemployment rate within the disabled population.
4. Despite wheelchairs being invented nearly 500 years ago, most homes are built with doorways that are too narrow for them to pass through and are equipped with steps that can’t be navigated.
5. New restaurants only have to make 5% of their tables accessible to people with physical disabilities.
6. No restaurant is required to provide Braille or large print menus for customers with vision impairments.
7. All first release movies are not required to have closed or open captioning for people who deaf or hard-of-hearing.
8. Employers with 14 or fewer employees, as well as all State employers are completely exempt from the Federal restrictions against discrimination on the basis of disability in employment. This means that these small employers can refuse to employ someone just because they are sitting in a wheelchair.
9. Before anyone else, more than 200,000 people with disabilities of all ages were killed by the Nazis, because they were already considered to be “less than human” anyway.
10. The percentage of college students that have a disability: 11%.
11. 88% of the disabilities that afflict humanity today are not visible. This means that the average person would not know that there is a person with a disability next to them if they looked over at them.
12. Only 13% of people with a disability above the age of 25 had a bachelor’s degree.
13. The average salary that is earned per month for someone who has a disability that causes severe restrictions is $1,000 less per month than a worker without a disability.
14. Only 2% of American transit buses are equipped with wheelchair ramps or lifts that allow for transportation when a disability is present.
15. In 2010, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reported that 25,165 charges of disability discrimination were filed.
16. Ableism is usually not noticed to those who don’t have a disability, yet it is still a form of discrimination.
17. Most stores might be accessible to someone who has a disability, but all stores are accessible to those without a disability. It’s a slight, yet very important difference, that reflects the attitudes of a society.
18. The Oxford English Dictionary traces the world ableism back to 1981.
19. Many of the videos or television shows that do have closed captioning or subtitles do not provide an accurate representation of what is being said. Turn on your CC and you’ll see this first-hand – this is how someone with a hearing disability watches TV. What if the actors or news anchors on television spoke in the way that CC says they are? Most people wouldn’t even bother to watch.
How Ableism Affects Individuals
The modern world isn’t designed for someone with a disability. It’s an informational network that is wired to complex thinking patterns, philosophical reasoning, and data access. If someone has problems speaking or typing, then they will struggle to share their individual perspective with the global community. Those who have reading difficulties will struggle with information processing. Ableism says that folks with these struggles aren’t worth as much as a person who doesn’t have a disability.
This isn’t a new concept by any means. Today we use ableism to exclude people from services and supports so that they don’t have an equal standard of life. In the past, people with disabilities were thought to be unclean people, under the spell of witchcraft, the devil, or being punished by God because of their sins. Ancient civilizations wouldn’t even bother with the disabled. Infants would be placed outside and left to die from the elements.
The problem is that ableism sees disabilities as a problem that should be fixed, but cannot be. Society believes that people with a disability are striving to be “normal.” All of these attitudes, whether intended or not, make those with disabilities feel negative or even ashamed of themselves and their “lack” of societal contribution. As the statistics show, this is an issue that can no longer be ignored.
The key to stopping ableism is to remove a person’s disability from the equation. It’s a person-first attitude. It’s not a “developmentally disabled person.” It’s just a person. The disability usually isn’t even relevant to the conversation, but it is often included anyway.
Another way to stop ableism is to stop labeling groups of people by their condition. The blind, the autistic, or even the dyslexic are just people. By describing them through their disability, the worth of their life becomes diminished. People aren’t crippled by their disabilities. They aren’t even handicapped by them. They simply adapt to them, just as any other person adapts to the challenging curveballs that life can throw at them.
Ableism is so ingrained in society today that many times we all don’t realize that we’re putting this community of people down. Saying that someone “suffers” from their disability or has become a “victim” of circumstance shows an attitude of superiority. People with a disability are not patients. They are not invalid. Most importantly, they do not want your pity.
People with a disability just want to be treated with respect and acceptance. By understanding the statistics of ableism, we can all begin to do a better job of making that happen.