Discrimination faced by those with mental disorders is sometimes called Mentalism (discrimination) rather than ableism.

Ableism is a form of discrimination or social prejudice against people with disabilities. It is known by many names, including disability discrimination, physicalism, handicapism, and disability oppression.[1] It is also sometimes known as disablism, although there is some dispute as to whether ableism and disablism are synonymous, and some people within disability rights circles find the latter term's use inaccurate.


Definition of the concept

Similar to many of the assumptions underlying the medical model of disability amongst many clinicians, the "ableist" societal world-view is that the able-bodied are the norm in society, and that people who have disabilities must either strive to become that norm or should keep their distance from able-bodied people. A disability is thus, inherently, a "bad" thing that must be overcome. The ableist worldview holds that disability is an error, a mistake, or a failing, rather than a simple consequence of human diversity, akin to race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender.[2]

Fiona A Kumari Campbell, Senior Lecturer in disability studies at Griffith University, draws a distinction between disablism and ableism. Disablism, she notes, has been the traditional focus of study within the field of disability studies. Disablism promotes the unequal treatment of the (physically) disabled versus the able-bodied. It marks the disabled as the Other, and works from the perspective of the able-bodied.[3]

Citing prior work (Clear 1999) (Iwasaki & Mactavish 2005) (Watts & Erevelles 2004), Campbell acknowledges that the concept of ableism is, as of 2009, not clearly defined in the literature and has "limited definitional or conceptual specifity".[4] She herself distinguishes between ableism and disablism, defining the former as:

A network of beliefs, processes and practices that produces a particular kind of self and body (the corporeal standard) that is projected as the perfect, species-typical, and therefore essential and fully human. Disability is then cast as a diminished state of being human.[4][5]

Other definitions of ableism include those of Vera Chouinard (professor of geography at McMaster University), who defines it as "ideas, practices, institutions, and social relations that presume able-bodiedness, and by so doing, construct persons with disabilities as marginalized […] and largely invisible 'others'"[6][4] and Ron Amundson (professor of philosophy at the University of Hawaii at Hilo) and Gayle Taira, who define it as "a doctrine that falsely treats impairments as inherently and naturally horrible and blames the impairments themselves for the problems experienced by the people who have them".[7][4]

Harpur (Research Fellow in Employment Relations at Griffith University) argues that the term ableism is a powerful label that has the capacity to ameliorate the use of negative stereotypes and facilitate cultural change by focusing attention on the discriminator rather than on the victim or impairment.[8]

Laws in the United States defending the disabled

In the U.S., Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) enacted into law certain civil penalties for failing to make public places comply with access codes known as the ADA Access Guidelines (ADAAG); this law also helped expand the use of certain adaptive devices, such as TTYs (phone systems for the deaf/speech impaired), some computer-related hardware and software, and ramps or lifts on public transportation buses and private automobiles.[citation needed] In the UK, meanwhile, the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act and Disability Discrimination Act 2005 and the Equality Act 2010 attempt the same.

However, neither of these laws requires all buildings constructed before the date of the Act to be modified to fit the physical directives of the Act. Instead, these directives are applied to three general categories of buildings: 1) existing Government administration buildings and structures regardless of age; 2) all newly-constructed buildings and structures; and, 3) significantly renovated and/or refurbished buildings and structures. Therefore, in general, due to overriding regulatory frameworks such as landmark statuses, historic building statuses, and similar, very few older structures in a given society may be modified according to the new requirements.[citation needed]

Sometimes, under their own power and for their own reasons, a business or service that does not have to modify its building structure to fit the accessibility requirements will modify it anyway. But other times, this does not happen, and the building continues to be fundamentally inaccessible to people with physical disabilities.[examples needed]

California Law

In addition to the federal protections provided by the ADA, California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”) provides additional protections to California employees. Notably, FEHA applies to employers with 5 or more employees and offers more extensive protection than the ADA. [9]


  1. ^ Griffin, Peters & Smith 2007, p. 335.
  2. ^ Marshak et al. 2009, p. 50.
  3. ^ Campbell 2009, pp. 3–4.
  4. ^ a b c d Campbell 2009, p. 5.
  5. ^ Campbell 2001, p. 44.
  6. ^ Chouinard 1997, p. 380.
  7. ^ Amundson & Taira 2005, p. 54.
  8. ^ Harpur, Paul (2009). "Sexism and Racism, Why not Ableism? Calling for a Cultural Shift in the Approach to Disability Discrimination". Alternative Law Journal (Melbourne: Legal Service Bulletin Co-operative Ltd) 34 (3): 163–167. 
  9. ^ Disability Discrimination - Solomon, Saltsman & Jamieson


  • Amundson, Ron; Taira, Gayle (2005). "Our Lives and Ideologies: The Effects of Life Experience on the Perceived Morality of the Policy of Physician-Assisted Suicide" (PDF). Journal of Policy Studies 16 (1): 53–57. 
  • Campbell, Fiona A. Kumari (2001). "Inciting Legal Fictions: Disability Date with Ontology and the Ableist Body of the Law". Griffith Law Review 10 (1): 42–62. 
  • Campbell, Fiona A. Kumari (2009). Contours of Ableism: The Production of Disability and Abledness. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-230-57928-6. 
  • Chouinard, Vera (1997). "Making Space for Disabling Difference: Challenges Ableist Geographies". Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 15: 379–387. 
  • Griffin, Pat; Peters, Madelaine L.; Smith, Robin M. (2007). "Ableism Curriculum Design". In Adams, Maurianne; Bell, Lee Anne; Griffin, Pat. Teaching for diversity and social justice. 1 (2nd ed.). Taylor & Francis. ISBN 978-0-415-95199-9. 
  • Marshak, Laura E.; Dandeneau, Claire J.; Prezant, Fran P.; L'Amoreaux, Nadene A. (2009). The School Counselor's Guide to Helping Students with Disabilities. Jossey-Bass teacher. John Wiley and Sons. ISBN 978-0-470-17579-8. 

Further reading

See also

External links

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