Teaching About Ableism

Introduction

Ableism is prejudice or discrimination against people with disabilities and can be intentional or unintentional. Ableism is ultimately founded in the belief that people with typical abilities are superior, and in turn, those with disabilities are inferior. There are many harmful stereotypes, misconceptions, and generalizations about people with disabilities. Though many incidents of ableism occur in day-to-day conversation by people who unknowingly use ableist language, there are plenty of systems in place in society that discriminate against people with disabilities.

Teaching about ableism is important because there is a portion of our population—a crucial portion—that is being oppressed. Students should be given the opportunity to learn about how people with disabilities are affected by ableism and what they can do to help eliminate ableism!

Resources

There are many resources available online for teaching students about ableism. For educators who are interested, United 4SC also offers Teaching About Disability and Teaching About Neurodivergent Communities.

Lesson Plans

  1. What Is Ableism?: Learning for Justice has created a lesson on ableism. In this lesson, students will share prior knowledge on physical disabilities, stereotypes regarding people with disabilities, and issues of fairness and accessibility. They will also start learning vocabulary for talking about physical disabilities and ableism. Educators who are looking for their students to evaluate their own knowledge and questions about disabilities should check out this resource!
  2. Understanding and Challenging Ableism: The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) provides a lesson on ableism in which students will be given the opportunity to understand ableism, identify and categorize specific examples of ableism, learn about the different ways ableism takes place, and consider the ways they can be allies and actions they can take to challenge ableism. Students will do so through participating in several different activities, such as a turn and talk, an information sharing, and a reading activity. ADL has also offered the links of additional lesson plans related to ableism: Equal Treatment, Equal Access – Raising Awareness about People with Disabilities and Their Struggle for Equal Rights, “The Present” and Living with a Disability, Children’s and Young Adult Books on Ability, Disability and Ableism, and others!
  3. Challenging Ableist Language: GLSEN provides a lesson on challenging ableist language. The lesson focuses on ableism and how to avoid using ableist language. The main resource used is the Huffington Post article Doing Social Justice: 10 Reasons to Give Up Ableist Language, which will encourage students to discuss how ableist language is used in their daily lives and society as a whole.
  4. Unit on Ableism: This unit on ableism is divided into five different sections: Introduction and Photos, Disability, Ableism, Fighting for Access, and lastly Organizing/Action. In the introduction, students will explore the concepts of “ability” and “disability,” review stereotypes of “normal” and “abnormal” appearance and behavior, and view photos illustrating mistreatment of people with disabilities. In Disability, students will explore the experiences of having a disability and of coming across a person with a visible disability. The section Ableism requires students to examine three aspects of the oppression of ableism: stereotypes, violence, and institutionalized mistreatment. In Fighting for Access, students will review how people with disabilities have resisted ableism and brainstorm ways to improve access in the classroom for the disabled. Lastly, the section Organizing/Action provides a template to help teachers and students alike stay organized throughout the lesson.
  5. Undoing Ableism – Teaching About Disability in K-12 Classrooms: Academia has published Undoing Ableism: Teaching About Disability in K-12 Classroom. This paper discusses why educators should teach about disability and ableism in K-12 education, the foundations for teaching about disability and ableism, teaching and learning as critical inquiry, and more! Teachers can learn so much about how to teach about disability and ableism in their classrooms from this resource, and the only thing they have to do to download this paper is to create a free account with Academia!
  6. Ableism 101 Part One: What Is Ableism? What Is Disability?: The Disability Resource Center at the University of Arizona provides Ableism 101 Part One presentation slides, Ableist words and terms to avoid, and the Ableism 101 Workbook for the first session of their workshop series. Educators can utilize these resources however they would like!

Articles

  1. The Teacher’s Guide to Combating Classroom Ableism: Planbook provides a teacher’s guide to combating classroom ableism. This guide explains how to identify ableism and why it matters, understand diagnosis and context, utilize inclusive educational content, and find resources for teaching acceptance. For educators who are beginning the process of deciding how to teach ableism, this guide lays out an easy and effective way to do so!
  2. What is Ableism? Teachers Share 8 Things They Wish the World Understood: Rasmussen University offers an article that discusses ableism and shares several things teachers and others who work with people of varying ability wish the world understood about ableism. Educators and experts alike share how everyone has strengths and limitations, children with differing abilities are still children, a little accommodation can make all the difference, and more!
  3. Words Matter, And It’s Time To Explore The Meaning Of “Ableism.”: Forbes has published an article exploring the meaning of “ableism.” The article breaks down the definitions of ableism, personal ableism, and systemic ableism in a detailed manner. For educators who are introducing ableism into their classrooms for the first time and want their students to deepen their understanding of this prejudice, this article is very helpful.
  4. The Harmful Ableist Language You Unknowingly Use: BBC provides an article discussing the harmful ableist language our society unknowingly uses on a daily basis. Some of the most common expressions used in our society have a damaging effect on millions of people. Students and teachers alike may utilize some of these sayings and hurt others without realizing it, so this article will help each one of us to recognize ableist language and ultimately stop using it in conversations.
  5. Why You Need to Stop Using These Words and Phrases: The Harvard Business Review has published an article discussing why people need to stop using ableist words and phrases. As the author of this article explains, ableism is bigger than language, as it reveals our unconscious biases, makes us internalize harmful biases about disability, and stigmatizes already marginalized people. Thus, it is important for all of us to make a conscious effort to improve our vocabulary!

Informational Sites

  1. NCCJ – Ableism: The National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ) provides a multitude of information on ableism. This resource offers definitions on terms related to ableism, history, videos, articles and handouts, statistics, and questions to consider.
  2. Ableism 101 – What It Is, What It Looks Like, And What We Can Do To Fix It: Access Living provides a brief informational article on ableism. The article explains what ableism is, what ableism looks like, what ‘everyday’ or minor ableism looks like, what ableist microaggressions are, and what we can do to recognize and avert ableism.
  3. #Ableism – Center for Disability Rights: The Center for Disability Rights offers a brief explanation of ableism.
  4. Stop Ableism – What is Ableism?: Stop Ableism provides an abundance of information on ableism. The site specifically offers information on what ableism is, why accessibility is good, accessible businesses, how to welcome customers, business accessibility test, interacting with people with disabilities, barrier free elections, ableism history, and financial assistance.

Conclusion

Teaching about ableism is very important! While teaching about this topic, it is key to remember that students may have witnessed or experienced ableism themselves. Teachers should always be sensitive to students’ feelings and give them space to share them if they want to do so. Also, it is important to note that schools are a common place for people to experience ableism, depending on their physical accessibility to buildings and materials along with the ways in which they are treated by those around them. Therefore, it may be beneficial for teachers to have conversations with students about how their school treats people with disabilities and work on improving circumstances if needed!

Additional Resources

  1. 12 Ways Disabled People Experience Internalized Ableism: The Mighty provides a brief article that discusses several ways that disabled people experienced internalized ableism. The Mighty is a digital community created to connect and empower people facing health issues and disabilities. Therefore, the information in this article about internalized ableism comes from members of the communities themselves. Overall, this resource will help students understand the discrimination individuals with disabilities face. 

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