Ableism and Barriers

Student sits leaning against tree

There is still a great deal of stigma and ableism present within higher education. While there is still willful and malicious discrimination against people with disabilities, much of how ableism manifests in higher education is unintended and unintentional. Intentions, however, do not decrease how problematic ableism remains. Ableism should be actively considered and addressed by everyone working at the university.  

Examples of ableism in higher education include:  

  • Negative/discriminatory attitudes towards and lack of knowledge about people with disabilities 
    • Questioning if someone is ‘actually’ disabled 
    • Assuming all people with disabilities want to be 'fixed’ (become non-disabled) 
    • Touching someone’s mobility aid without permission 
    • Questioning whether someone really needs their approved accommodations 
    • Using disability as a punchline 
    • Talking to a person with a disability like they are a child or talking about them instead of to them 
    • Asking invasive questions of someone with a disability 
  • Inaccessible choices 
    • Choosing an inaccessible venue for an event 
    • Showing a movie without captions  
    • Including inaccessible course materials or posting inaccessible content  
    • Planning an event without considering wheelchair access 
    • Choosing not to include an accessibility statement for events  
    • Failing to include relevant disability history and perspectives 
  • Environmental and resource barriers   
    • Physical environments that are not accessible such as buildings with multiple stories and no elevators. 
    • Digital environments that are not accessible.  
    • Lack of relevant assistive technology (assistive, adaptive, and rehabilitative devices) such as a motorized wheelchair 
    • Accessibility not being built into purchasing processes  
    • Lack of input from people with disabilities at the planning stage  
  • Services, systems, and policies that are either nonexistent or that hinder the involvement of all people with disabilities  
    • Procurement processes that do not include accessibility from the start.  
    • Lack of support resources for people with disabilities.  

These are just some of the many ways that ableism can be seen. There are many ways that ableism manifests in higher education. It is important to be aware of how ableism and bias can impact higher education as well as our personal understandings and practices.