The term “disability discrimination” refers to an attitude or behaviour towards people with a disability which treats them as inferior. These people are reduced to their physical or cognitive abilities, which serves to justify rejection and negative prejudices or judgements.
The term “ableism” encompasses further aspects of this discrimination which may not, at first sight, appear to be actively hostile. For example, ignorance of the needs of disabled people. Or supposedly positive expressions such as excessive ‘praise’ when disabled people carry out everyday activities.
Drawing a parallel to other ‘isms’ such as sexism and racism, this latter term has its origins in the disabled movement in north America. In this case, it is a form of discrimination based on ‘ability’: just as “sex-ist” prejudices are based simply on biological sex, “abl-ist” prejudices are based on physical, cognitive or psychological abilities.
These prejudices and behaviours are rooted in societal norms that govern what a person should be able to do or how they should behave if they are to be considered ‘normal’. If people whose abilities are not ‘normal’ experience prejudice or discrimination because of this, then this is understood to be “ableism”. Ableism manifests itself particularly in the form of barriers which make participation in society more difficult for people with disabilities. Generally these barriers only exist because people in the majority do not notice them. This might be a lack of lifts in a building or the non-provision of sign language interpreters at a conference.