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Anti-Oppression: Anti-Ableism

I subscribe to what's called the social model of disability, which tells us that we are more disabled by society than by our bodies and our diagnoses. --Stella Young


Background What does ableism look like? Support Resources for Disabled Folks Informational Resources for Allies

A note on the scope of this guide:

This guide is intended to provide general information about anti-oppression, diversity, and inclusion as well as information and resources for the social justice issues key to current dialogues within the Simmons Community. This guide is by no means an exhaustive list of anti-oppressive initiatives nor does it capture all of the many facets of the larger conversations about the issues listed here. This guide serves as an introduction to these issues and as a starting place for finding information from a variety of sources.



Ableism is prejudice plus power; anyone of any degree of physical or non-physical ability can have/exhibit ability-based prejudice, but in North America (and globally), societally enabled or nondisabled people have the institutional power, therefore Ableism is a systematized discrimination, antagonism, or exclusion directed against disabled people based on the belief that ‘normal ability’ is superior. Ableism involves both denying access to disabled people and exclusive attitudes of nondisabled persons.

An ableist society is said to be one that treats nondisabled individuals as the standard of ‘normal living’, which results in public and private places and services, education, and social work that are built to serve 'standard' people, thereby inherently excluding those with various disabilities. (from

Disabled folks can be agents of ableism as well (particularly when acting as representatives of abelist systems, such as higher education) by perpetuating the notion of enabled or nondisabled superiority and using it to discriminate against other disabled people. For example, a wheelchair-enabled hiring manager may eliminate a chronically ill candidate from a job pool because he feels the candidate, though well-qualified, will not be reliable or have the capacity for the job demands due to their illness.

Anti-Ableism is strategies, theories, actions, and practices that challenge and counter ableism, inequalities, prejudices, and discrimination based on developmental, emotional, physical, or psychiatric (dis)ability.


What does ableism look like?

Ableist Microaggressions are commonplace verbal or behavioral indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative slights and insults in relation to developmental, emotional, physical, or psychiatric disability. They are structurally based and invoke oppressive systems of a "normal ability" hierarchy. Ableist MicroinvalidationsMicroinsultsMicroassaults are specific types of microaggressions.

Note: The prefix “micro” is used because these are invocations of normalized ability hierarchy at the individual level (person to person), where as the "macro" level refers to aggressions committed by structures as a whole (e.g. an organizational policy). "Micro" in no way minimalizes or otherwise evaluates the impact or seriousness of the aggressions.

Further Reading:

Accessibility means access. It refers to the ability for everyone, regardless of disability or special needs, to access, use, and benefit from everything within their environment. It is the “degree to which a product, device, service, or environment is available to as many people as possible.” 

Founded on the principles of Universal Design, the goal of accessibility is to create an inclusive society for people with physical, mobility, visual, auditory, intellectual, developmental, cognitive, health, and other disabilities. This means everyone has equal access to perceive, understand, engage, navigate, and interact with all elements of the physical and digital world. (from

Ableism and ableist societies restrict accessibility, either consciously or unconsciously, by designing physical locations/buildings, technology, transportation systems, communication systems, etc. that meet the needs of nondisabled people and dismiss the needs of disabled people. Disabled people, therefore, are primarily disadvantaged not by their difference or diagnoses, but by the society that disregards and marginalizes their needs and restricts accessibility.

Twitter user Coffee Spoonie posted: "Ramps should be the standard. Automatic doors should be the standard. Elevators in multi-story buildings should be the standard. ASL interpreters at events should be the standard. Braille menus at restaurants should be the standard. Accessibility should be the standard." on June 3, 2018

Support Resources for Disabled Folks

Informational Resources for Allies

(En)Abled/Nondisabled Privilege

Abled, Enabled, or Nondisabled privilege refers to the unearned benefits that American society and many other societies and cultures accord to enabled and/or nondisabled people. This privilege is rooted in two cultural beliefs: 1) that a "normal" human being is one who can see, walk, hear, talk, etc. and has no significant physical, cognitive, emotional, developmental, or intellectual divergence, and 2) that disability is "abnormal" and therefore a (social) disadvantage. These beliefs or societal models mean that many cultures, including the US, have set up social expectations, structures, cultural mores, and institutions to accommodate nondisabled and/or enabled people by default and that dismiss and/or marginalize the needs and experiences of disabled and/or differently abled people. Enabled/Nondisabled privilege privilege speaks to how not having a disability or not being perceived as having a disability means not having to think or address topics that those without enabled/nondisabled privilege have to deal with, often on a daily basis.

To give you an idea of enabled/nondisabled privilege, here are some examples of the benefits enabled/nondisabled people receive:

  • I can easily arrange to be in the company of people of my physical ability.
  • I can get inside all buildings by the main entrance.
  • If I need to move, I can easily be assured of purchasing housing I can get access to easily - accessibility is one thing I do not need to make a special point of looking for.
  • I can be assured that my entire neighborhood will be accessible to me.
  • I can assume that I can go shopping alone, and they will always have appropriate accommodations to make this experience hassle-free. 

Further Reading: 

(En)Abled/Nondisabled Fragility

Abled, Enabled, or Nondisabled fragility is a state in which even a minimum amount of privilege stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves. These moves include the outward display of emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviors such as tears, argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation. These behaviors, in turn, function to reinstate enabled equilibrium. (adapted from "White Fragility")

The dominant association between "normal" and "enabled or nondisabled" allows most enabled people to live in social environments that insulate them from challenging encounters with abilities, accessibility perspectives, or people who differ from themselves. Within this dominant social environment, enabled people come to expect social comfort and a sense of belonging and that their perspective of "normal" is correct by default. When this comfort is disrupted, enabled people are often at a loss because they have not had to build skills for constructive engagement with differently enabled and disabled people and their social perspectives. They may become defensive, positioning themselves as victims of anti-ableist work and co-opting the rhetoric of violence to describe their experiences of being challenged on enabled/nondisabled privilege. (adapted from "Christian Fragility")


This guide is being updated as of January 2024. Email for further information.

Books & Subject Headings


In an effort at full disclosure, it should be noted that the collaborators on this guide occupy some of the oppressed identities outlined here, but not all of them. We have attempted to bring together quality, relevant resources for the anti-oppression issues in this guide, but we are not immune from the limits and hidden biases of our own privileges and perspectives as allies.

We welcome and greatly appreciate any feedback and suggestions for the guide, particularly from the perspectives and experiences of the marginalized groups listed and not listed here.