For all its hyperbole and occasional descents into doctrinal nit-picking, Tumblr still has some of the deepest, most interesting disability discussions on the Internet. However, there still seems to be a lot of unnecessary anxiety and trolling around the word “Ableism” and its variants, like “Ableist”. Nobody appointed me King of Terminology, but I do think that this is one of those rare “issues” that really is less complicated than people make it out to be.
1. “Ableism” is simply a more efficient word for disability prejudice, no more, no less. The word is somewhat new, but the phenomenon it describes is not. As far as I know, it wasn’t invented on Tumblr, or in the Disability Studies Department of a major university. It is a perfectly simple and common-sense word that likens disability prejudice to racism or sexism, the types of prejudice experienced by people of various races or genders.
2. The most important thing about ableism is not that it hurts our feelings, it’s that ableism leads to harmful policies that affect disabled peoples’ ability to live fully and independently … even, in some cases, our ability to live, period. Ableism can certainly be annoying, insulting, or even degrading, but these feelings are only the tip of the iceberg. Ableism would still be a problem if we all had some ideal degree of “thick skin” and perfect rationality.