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What You Can Do to Challenge Ableism in the Workplace

In our last blog, we talked about the benefits of a healthy workforce. While promoting good health among your employees is essential, it should not become an exclusionary practice. Oftentimes, people confuse health with ability. This, and other misconceptions can lead to unintentional ableist attitudes and practices. Here’s how to keep an eye out for ableism at work, and how to combat it.

Definition: Ableism

Abelism is discrimination and social prejudice against people with disabilities. Ableism is characterized by the belief that people without disabilities (those who are abled) are superior. This presumption manifests in a variety of ways, from stereotypes and insensitive language to outright discrimination and illegal hiring practices. According to the CDC about 26% (or 1 in 4) of the US population is living with some type of disability. Disability status is defined as serious difficulty with hearing, vision, cognition, walking or climbing stairs, as well as difficulty with self-care and independent living.

With so many people living with disabilities, it’s a wonder why ableism is such a prevalent problem. Additionally, most people would agree ableism is wrong - so why does it exist? Most instances of ableism are unintentional and stem from a lack of education or awareness. Many able-bodied individuals simply aren’t aware of the frequent obstacles placed in front of those with disabilities.

Where Ableism Can Occur at Work

The difficulty with combating ableism at work is that it often appears in “microaggressions,” or short insensitive comments or actions. Here are some examples so you can spot them if they arise:

  • Using language like “crazy,” “psycho,” or “spaz.” Also, misappropriating actual conditions like bipolar, OCD, blindness, or deafness.
  • Believing that a coworker is just faking their disability or over exaggerating their condition.
  • Speaking on the disabled person’s behalf, or assuming to know everything about their disability.
  • Pretending the disability doesn’t exist.
  • Putting the disabled person on a pedestal and telling them what a “hero” or an “inspiration” they are.
  • Being invasive or paternalistic towards a disabled person.
  • Assuming a disabled person would want to be abled.
  • Comparing a person’s disability to one’s own temporary ailment.
  • Discouraging people from talking about their disabilities

Remember, most people do not intend to be ableist, so if you’re trying to shut down these behaviors at work, try to express that we’re all on the same side here. Many people get uncomfortable because they don’t want to offend and be seen as insensitive. You’re not there to attack the person, you’re working together to create a healthier environment for everyone.

A classic and wide-spread instance of ableism in the workplace occurs in job postings. Requiring applicants to be able to lift a certain amount of weight even though the job rarely or never requires it has strangely become the norm. It’s worth reviewing your job postings to see if this ableist language is included. Take some time also to review your company policies on time off, working from home, and other requirements with disabilities in mind.

Listen to Disabled People

Like with any “isms” the best way to counter it is with education. Seek out disabled authors, podcasters, and content creators to expand your view on what living with a disability is like. Personally, I enjoy Lucy Edwards’ and Jo Beckwith’s short YouTube videos about living with blindness and a prosthetic leg, respectively. They’re quick, bite-sized, and enlightening glimpses into how they navigate ordinary tasks. The point of education isn’t to become an expert at every disability out there, but to become more aware of the struggles you’ve never had to deal with. If you know of any employees at your company who have disabilities, strike up a conversation with them. Ask them how work is going and if they need anything to do their job better. The more communication you have, the easier it will be to anticipate and meet the needs of your employees.

Appreciation is Key

At Dion, we know the value of making your employees feel appreciated. By taking these steps to create an inclusive working environment, you’re signaling to all your employees that your company cares. People who feel valued are much more likely to be productive, stay with their company, and have more positive interactions with coworkers and customers. Maintain this positive working environment by showing your employees your genuine and timely appreciation. We help companies recognize their employees for meeting sales goals, their years of service, promotions, and many more occasions. There’s always an opportunity to thank the people that make your business a success.


By Aubrey Dion

Aubrey Dion is proud to be back working for the family business she grew up in. Over the years, she has performed a wide variety of jobs in both the office and factory, becoming a true "jack of all trades." Aubrey credits her quick learning ability to her strong theatre background, where memorization and attention to detail are vital. Working in the marketing department allows her to stay creative and work on exciting new projects for the company.


CDC - Disability Impacts All of Us

InHerSight - Ableism in the Workplace: What It Is & How To Combat It

Idealist - What is Ableism? Confronting Ableism in the Workplace