Before, we dive into the complex and much hidden concept of ableism, we all need to fist understand the very basics of ableism.I did share with you all the very basics of what ableism and what you all need to know based on my first video series of this which you can find here above me on the right hand corner of the screen or you can watch it here below.
But in brief ableism is defined as by Wikipedia as, “discrimination and social prejudice against
people with disabilities.” What does that really mean, though? Before we can get into that,
we must first understand that there are 3 main types of Ableism, each regarding a different
type of affected ability and each discriminated against differently.
The first and most likely best known form of Ableism is that induced by a physical inability.
For example, an individual who is missing an arm will have to put more work into achieving a task such as cooking food then someone is fully bodied.You may be thinking, “How is this discrimination? I wouldn’t want a one-handed doctor operating on me?” It is important to be aware that physical discrimination can be much less obvious.
For example, a study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology (Vol. 89, No. 3) found that each inch above average height for males may be worth $789 more per year when it came to pay.
Still don’t think there is more to physical discrimination then just the disability? Let’s take a look at another study. This one is from the Honors College,Pace University. The study found that a higher beauty rating can be equated with a greater yearly income. In fact they found on average a person considered average made $13,349 less than a person considered attractive. Thus, it may be easy to see why missing an arm goes beyond disability.
The body is a highly politicized entity where power is assigned and negotiated. One body feature can quickly lead to a cascade of identities and discrimination. What would you think of Disney princess if they had physical disabilities like missing a leg or an arm?
A mental disability might be a less known cause of disability as it may not always be displayed on our bodies. However, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. or 43.8 million. So…chances are you may know someone who lives with a mental disability. Unlike physical Ableism, mental Ableism has a more direct link to discrimination. The negative stigma that comes with those who display mental disabilities such as Down Syndrome is well known but what about those who show no signs of mental disabilities and whose disability does not leave a mark on the body?
Mental disabilities, especially those that do not present on the victim’s body are a relatively modern discovery and are still being investigated by science. We know very little about disorders such as autism, dyslexia, and ADHD so linking them to specific cases of discrimination can be challenging.
Learning disabilities can be a challenge to identify and diagnose according to Gail Grodzinsky, Ph.D as most disabilities are highly individually based and complex. This means many people around the world may not physically display a mental disorder or even be aware they have one. What if your lack of focus is not because you are unmotivated or undisciplined, but rather because specific wiring and chemical pathways in your brain are malfunctioning?
A good example is ADHD. To quickly summarize, the disorder occurs when your brain’s reward pathway does not get stimulated enough, as a result you are not rewarded for focus and thus have a hard time paying attention. ADHD does present itself on the body (in the case of most adults)
and you most likely pass many people with the disorder every day without knowing it. So how can someone with a disorder like ADHD face discrimination if no one knows of the disorder? This is when we must address the concept of institutional discrimination. This concept is complex but it can be summarized as a built in social system, either intentional or not, which produces and maintains injustice. It is hard to spot at first but those living with ADHD struggle to navigate our social system. For example, a study by the Upstate Medical School claimed that scientific literature demonstrated well-documented driving risks and impairments associated with ADHD.
Mental disorders can come with multiple abilities that are beneficial and empowering. Some of these abilities are discussed elsewhere on this site.
This type of ableism is the hardest to identify, but it is also one of the most influential on a global scale.
Before we even define cultural ableism, let’s acknowledge a few points first. Firstly, we know that there exists multiple diverse cultures, not just between countries but also cities, communities, neighborhoods, and families. Further, we can also acknowledge that there are certain ways to act in
certain situations. For example, the best time for stand-up comedy may not be during a very serious business meeting or funeral. With these two points in mind we can define cultural ableism as discrimination that occurs due to a ‘cultural disability’. Let us try to make more sense of this concept with a hypothetical example about Jonny Smith:
Jonny is a white lower class male. He was raised in a rural area of the U.S. and has no college education. He has grown up associating most closely with low culture. He enjoys working on his truck and having a BBQ with his neighbors. He also frequently watches NFL and is an avid Broncos fan. Jonny has worked a factory job for a few years now and has excelled at all tasks. As a result, Joe’s boss offers him a group interview to become part of management. The interview is ‘informal’ and begins with a game of golf followed by an expensive steak dinner. Along with Jonny a few other college educated candidates were invited from corporate. Jonny’s boss is one of the interviewers but so are other managers form all around the country. Unfortunately for Jonny, he has never played golf before and quickly became
the laughing stock for the other candidates. His confidence was shattered, and it seemed like the other interviewers saw him as incompetent. Dinner soon came and the interviewers could not help themselves but stare as Jonny smothered his steak with Tabasco and ate it with nothing but a fork. Even with a good word from his boss and a near perfect performance record Jonny did not stand a chance at the job.
Even though Jonny was most likely the best qualified he lacked the cultural knowledge to fit into the management in-group. Jonny did not have access to the in-groups high culture and thus was disabled during the interview process as he lacked the needed cultural capital. As you can imagine this hypothetical story gets worse as the cultural divide increases. If we replaced Jonny with an immigrant from South Africa many more factors then just high and low culture take play and the story might have ended before dinner.
Being aware of social situations and acting appropriately in them is something we do every day but we have all had that moment when a situation becomes ‘awkward’. This happens to most people but some on a much different and debilitating degree. Cultural ableism is different from mental ableism as it does not come with a known underlying biological condition. However mental and cultural ableisms can be highly interconnected. The reasons behind cultural ableism are diverse and can stem from
concepts such as cultural imperialism, whiteness, and social constructs.
This might make more sense if we look at culture as a resource. With money, you either have enough to but a candy bar or you do not, culture is much the same. If you want to belong to a social group, let’s say a hunting community, you either have enough culture to ‘fit in’ or you do not. An immigrant family who recently moved from Iran to Arizona may have a more difficult time fitting in and avoiding those awkward moments then a family who moved to Arizona from Utah. This is because the
Iranian family most likely lacks the cultural capital required to function effectively within their new community and thus can be considered culturally disabled. However, this idea works both ways. If a white family were to move from Arizona to Iran they may experience the type of disability because they lack the required cultural capital.
So, as you can see that there are many different kinds and or types of ableism and that I believe again that this need to be addressed on this matter at hand to create more understanding and awareness of this and if it means me to start this conversation/writing about this my hope is that others will follow.