Ableism is unlike any other "ism" there is. First of all, it is a foreign term to a number of people. If you say someone is acting like an ableist, chances are that person probably has no idea what being an ableist means. But, if you were to call someone racist, people don't need to think twice about what that means. Second, ableism affects more people than you think. It's not dependent on race, gender, age or social class. Anyone with a disability is affected by ableism.
In 2012, the U.S. Census Bureau stated that 1 in 5 Americans are living with a disability. When you break it down, that means 1 in 5 Americans are affected by the cruelties of ableism. In order to decrease the number of people affected by the harms of ableism, we need to spread awareness of what it is. Simply put, ableism is the discrimination against people who have a disability. Discrimination doesn't just mean not letting someone sit next to you simply because he or she may be disabled. There are so many tiers to ableism and I'm going to break them down for you.
1. "Retarded" "Idiot" "Crazy" "Stupid" and Other Derogatory Terms
You might be sitting with your friends and someone does something embarrassing so you call your friend "stupid". Or maybe you call a situation you don't like "retarded". Using vocabulary such as that is ableist. You are wrongfully labeling people and hurting the feelings of people who were once described by these terms because of a disability they had no control over.
Back in the early 1890s, anyone living with a disability was referred to as "retarded" and locked away in a mental institution. Thankfully, as the times have changed, we have become a more accepting society of people who are disabled, but there is always room for improvement. Next time you want to call someone "retarded" just know your choice of vocabulary is extremely outdated and misused. If you hear someone using these terms, don't be afraid to call them out. Awareness needs to be raised.
2. Lack of Privilege
Being able-bodied, you have an invisible privilege you don't realize. This certain invisible privilege means you don't have to worry about whether or not your classroom will have a wheelchair ramp. You don't have to worry about not being able to take notes in class because a mental disability holds you back. Sometimes, this invisible privilege makes us ignorant. Just because we don't experience the struggles that other people might, doesn't mean they shouldn't concern us. One way to avoid ableism is to be more aware of this privilege and the people around you. For example, if you are waiting in line to use the bathroom and the only stall left is handicap, don't use it. That stall is meant for people who really need it, and being able-bodied, you should leave that stall open.
3. The Employment Disadvantage
The U.S. Census Bureau found in 2014 that only 49% of people with disabilities are employed and 79% of able-bodied people are employed. People with disabilities are often discriminated against when interviewing for jobs because employers can't always see past their disability. While you may not be an employer, a simple way to avoid being an ableist is to always give people a chance. Don't stereotype or underestimate the abilities of someone because he or she may have a disorder or use a wheelchair to get places.
4. Sexual Mistreatment
Time Magazine found in 2015 that women who are disabled are three times more likely to be sexually mistreated. In addition to increased chances of being sexually assaulted, half of these cases get thrown away in court simply because they are too difficult to solve. Again, we may not be the perpetrators and don't sit in on a jury, but it doesn't mean we can't help this cause. Be an advocate for people who are disabled. If you know someone who has a disability, let he or she know you are a resource and are willing to talk about things. Making conversation with people can go a long way.
I listed four components of ableism. The most important thing to remember is to treat everyone with kindness. Although it is something that shouldn't have to be said, some people need to be reminded of it. Next time you go to call someone names, think of who may be sitting around you. Your words affect and harm more people than you realize. Next time you go to take that elevator to the second floor, remember someone with a wheelchair may need the space in the elevator more than you do. Don't stereotype people based on their appearance. Get to know someone and understand their capabilites before you make judgments. Be a resource or people who don't have the means to speak for themselves. Finally, be an advocate. If you see something that is oppressive, speak up. Being a witness of an ableist act and not saying something makes you an ableist too.