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Ableism is the persistent devaluing of disability or viewpoints in which disability is understood as an inherently negative state of being (Campbell, 2009). Ableism is both a form of prejudice and a system of discrimination, exclusion, and oppression. It is the attitude or belief that people who are enabled, or ‘nondisabled’ people, are superior and that people with disabilities are inferior, suffering, or need ‘fixing’. More subtly, ableism may be the automatic or uncritical assumption that nondisabled people are the default/norm. Many people have ableist viewpoints and behaviours but may be unconscious of them if they live in a context where these harmful viewpoints and behaviours are taken for granted as or defined as ‘normal’.

Ableist viewpoints include embracing or perpetuating harmful stereotypes, misconceptions, and generalizations of people with disabilities. Any actions that accompany these prejudicial attitudes, e.g., making a decision based on a misconception, constitute discrimination.

Some overt forms of ableism include not complying with disability rights and laws, segregating people with disabilities into different schools and institutions, using restraint or seclusion as a means to control students with disabilities, using disability as a punchline to a joke, building inaccessible websites, or neglecting to incorporate Universal Design into building design plans or educational lesson plans, instruction, and assessment.

Ableism persists in individual behaviours, cultural norms, and institutional policies and behaviours. ‘Everyday’ ableism may include such actions like choosing an event location that people using wheelchairs or mobility devices cannot access, posting images on social media or websites without providing a descriptive written caption, wearing scented products in a scent-free environment, speaking to someone with disability as if they are a child, questioning if someone is ‘actually’ disabled or ‘how much’ disabled they are, or asking, “How did you become disabled?”.

Ableism in language can sound like “that’s so lame”, “that’s retarded”, “Are you off your meds?”, “I’m super OCD about how I clean my apartment”, “It’s like the blind leading the blind”, “That exam was so difficult I’m traumatized”, “You’re such an inspiration”, or “Can I pray for you?”

Disrupting ableism can look like:

  • examining how normalcy is defined, and how normalcy is linked to power and privilege
  • ensuring people with disabilities are involved/at the table where decisions are being made
  • incorporating Universal Design in all building, event, and lesson design
  • believing people when they disclose a disability- not accusing people of faking a disability
  • listening to people when they request an accommodation
  • asking, not assuming, what people need
  • asking questions relevant to accommodations- refraining from asking invasive questions
  • asking for consent to touch a person with disability or their mobility equipment

Campbell, F. (2009). Contours of ableism: The production of disability and abledness. Palgrave Macmillan.


Accessibility is the term used when people can get information, use a service, or use a product effectively, no matter their physical or mental condition. Accessibility is also the practice of making information, activities, and/or environments sensible, meaningful, and usable for as many people as possible. Accessibility is the inclusive practice of ensuring there are no barriers that prevent interaction with or access to information, services, or products. Barriers to access can include:

  • stigma, biases, stereotypes, or misinformation about disability and accessibility;
  • physical or mental conditions that prevent or impede an individual from effectively navigating the setting;
  • information that is not available in a readable format;
  • software, electronic, or physical technologies that are not adaptable for use with assistive devices;
  • procedures, protocols, policies, laws, and ‘traditions’ that place undue burdens on individuals, especially people who may already be marginalized in their society, such as people with disabilities;
  • the false expectation or perception that some individuals, such as people with disabilities, are unable to contribute as much as their peers.

Generally, a reasonable accommodation is any change, modification, or adjustment to a job, work, or study environment that puts an end to any situation of discrimination based on disability, religion, age or any other ground prohibited by the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. For example, a reasonable accommodation might include modifying a menu to accommodate dietary restrictions, or allowing someone time off from work or study to observe a significant religious or cultural holiday.

In the context of accessibility and disability, reasonable accommodation is any change, modification, or adjustment to a job, work, or study environment that will enable an applicant, employee, or student with a disability to participate fully or to perform essential functions. Accommodating a person may involve adapting a practice, or a general operating rule or granting an exemption to an equity-deserving person. Reasonable accommodation is a legal and moral duty that Bishop’s University carries and must actively look for solutions so that students and employees can fully exercise their human rights.

Cure Culture

Cure culture refers to a social belief pressuring an individual to find a ‘cure’ for their disability. Cure culture is, in part, the belief that a person with disability needs to be ‘fixed’ or should want to be ‘fixed’ because they are ‘defective’ or assumed to be suffering. In this mindset, people without a perceived disability are ‘normal’, ‘whole’, and fully human and therefore capable of living a fulfilling life. People with a disability are perceived as ‘abnormal’, ‘broken’ or ‘defective’, less human, and suffer or cannot live a fulfilling life. Cure culture only focuses on what a person with disability cannot do and labels them as ‘disabled’ for the rest of their life. It assumes deficit or an unfulfilling life. In a cure culture, society fails to see what an individual with disability is capable of and tries to make them look and behave like someone without disability.

The cure culture mindset ignores the way that environment or societal attitudes (e.g., stigma or stereotype) contribute to the difficulties a person with disability may experience. Whether a person with disability wants to be ‘cured’ or not is individual and deeply personal and will vary from person to person. The assumptions that a person with disability is automatically suffering, should want to be ‘cured’, should be pitied, or lives a less fulfilling life due to their disability, are ableist attitudes.


Disability is a social, cultural, and political phenomenon. There is not a universal experience of disability; disability is not biologically fixed and is not automatically a biological deficit. Disability is “naturally occurring human variation” (Bacon & Lalvani, 2019, p. 388). A disability is any condition of the body or mind that makes it more difficult for the person with the condition to do certain activities and interact with the world around them. Some disability scholars describe these conditions as impairment as opposed to disability. Importantly, disability is often the combination or interaction of a health condition with an environmental barrier or a societal or attitudinal barrier like stigma.

A disability may have been present at birth, caused by an accident, or developed over time. Some disabilities are permanent; some are impermanent. Some disabilities vary or fluctuate in severity, meaning, a person may be more or less ‘able’ from day to day, depending on their physical or mental condition, or depending on their environment and context. Some disabilities are evident, ‘visible’ or perceptible; some are not easily perceived, non-evident, or ‘invisible’. The definitions, rights, and laws surrounding disability are constantly developing due to changes reflecting medical, societal, and ideological advancements.

The societal barriers that contribute to or create disability, such as the political, economic, social, and cultural oppression of people with impairments, is called disablement. With this perspective, we are asked to reframe our understanding of disability. That is, disability is not a ‘problem’ we need to address, but rather, society’s definitions of normal, or ableism, are more significant problems that need to be addressed. Many people in disability studies and disability work ask that instead of trying to define or ‘fix’ disability, that we try to understand how definitions of ‘normal’ and ‘able’ are constructed as a way of highlighting ableism as the issue, and that we focus on ‘fixing’ ableism instead.

Bacon, J.K., & Lalvani, P. (2019). Dominant narratives, subjugated knowledges, and the righting of the story of disability in K-12 curricula. Curriculum Inquiry, 49(4), 387-404.

Disability Porn

Disability porn, also known as inspiration porn, refers to the objectification and exploitation of people with disability in various kinds of media, like commercials, TikTok videos, movies, or social media posts. The media or story depicted in the media is typically sentimental or piteous, shares an uplifting message aimed at non-disabled viewers, and objectifies and dehumanizes the disabled person. Common ableist assumptions and stereotypes are themes of disability porn. Like sexual porn, disability porn makes the target viewer (non-disabled people) feel good. The stories and experiences of people with disability are exploited for the pleasure and gratification of non-disabled people.

Disability porn is problematic for a number of reasons, such as:

  • In these depictions, the disabled person is usually silent, (sometimes not even informed their image or story is being used), the tone is infantilizing, and underlying questions of real accessibility and inclusion are glossed over by a tone of charity and moralizing.
  • The depictions usually evoke a mixture of awe and pity from the target audiences. The ‘positive’ message relies on the belief that disability is tragic. This can distort our understanding of what disability is and reinforces negative stereotypes.
  • The person with disability is not the center of the story (the person ‘helping’ them usually is), and becomes a silent two-dimensional ‘extra’ or ‘stock character’, rather than a three-dimensional human with voice, perspective, and agency.
  • The story is told from the perspective of the non-disabled person and focuses on their ‘goodness’, ‘benevolence’, or ‘charity’. The non-disabled person is uplifted as a saviour, hero, or ‘angel’. The social justice issues that may contribute to the difficulties people with disabilities may face in their daily realities are ignored, and marginalizing and harmful stereotypes and issues are reinforced.
  • The story of the person with disability is used to inspire non-disabled people or to help them gain perspective and be ‘grateful for what they have’, compared to the struggles the disabled person is presumed to have. The sharing of the disabled person’s story is not used to benefit the disabled person or to address societal inequities but to make nondisabled people feel good about themselves or to help them ‘learn a lesson’ about gratitude, resilience, perseverance, and so on. The person with disability is not seen as a whole person but is rather used as a tool or object whose ‘purpose’ on Earth is to inspire or ‘teach’ non-disabled people.
(En)Abled Privilege

Abled, Enabled, or Nondisabled privilege refers to how not having, or not perceived as having, a disability means not having to think about or address the issues, perspectives, and experiences of people with disability. In many cultures like in Canada, the enabled or ‘nondisabled’ perspective and experience is considered ‘normal’ and ‘correct’ by default, and so the experience, needs, and comfort of ‘nondisabled’ people are default in decision-making and planning. As a consequence, the experience, needs, comfort, and success of people with disability are often ignored.

The privilege that enabled people experience is rooted in two cultural beliefs: 1) that a ‘normal’ human being is one who can see, walk, hear, talk, etc. and has no significant physical, cognitive, emotional, developmental, or intellectual divergence, and 2) that disability is ‘abnormal’ and therefore a disadvantage; disability means a person is ‘defective’.

These beliefs mean that many cultures, including Canada, have social expectations, structures, cultural values, and institutions to accommodate nondisabled and/or enabled people by default and that dismiss or marginalize the needs and experiences of people with disability.

Identity First Language

Some people with disabilities prefer to use Identity First Language to describe themselves. Identity First Language puts disability before person. For example, we might say “blind person” or “Autistic person” instead of “person who is blind” or “person on the Autism spectrum”. It emphasizes disability as an important aspect of their identity or even culture. The preferences between Person First and Identity First language vary person to person. There is no universal standard for this. It is recommended that we use Person First Language as a general good practice until an individual shares with us what specific language they use to refer to themselves and their identity. Or, ask someone which way they prefer to be identified.


The term neurodivergent is a non-medical umbrella term that describes people whose brain differences affect how their brain works. Some people use the term neuroatypical to describe the same. People who are neurodivergent have different strengths and challenges from people whose brains don’t have those differences. The possible differences can include medical disorders, learning disabilities, and other conditions. The term neurodivergent is way to describe people using words other than ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’. This is an important distinction because there’s no single definition of ‘normal’ for how the human brain works.

Neurodivergence does not mean neurodivergent people have ‘superpowers’ or ‘genius’, as many media depictions may suggest. Assuming that neurodivergence is accompanied by a ‘superhuman’ gift or genius is a stereotype and a form of ableism.

Some people believe the idea of neurodiversity should be about recognizing deficits, not a celebration of differences. Many who take that stance say that people who are neurodivergent have medical conditions that need treatment, not acceptance. However, research shows that knowing about the idea of neurodiversity doesn’t mean ignoring or denying that being neurodivergent is without struggle. Instead, the research shows people who know about the idea of being neurodivergent use that knowledge to adapt and help people with neurodivergence succeed. Some research also shows words and language related to neurodiversity make a difference in how people live. People who are neurodivergent and learn that it means they’re different — not defective — are more likely to be happier and aim higher in their careers.

The word for people who aren’t neurodivergent is neurotypical. That means their strengths and challenges aren’t significantly affected by any kind of difference that changes how their brains work.

Person First Language

Person First Language is a way of speaking or writing that puts the person before their diagnosis. For example, we might say “person who is deaf”, “person with Schizoaffective Disorder”, or “people who are autistic” instead of “deaf person”, “a Schizophrenic”, “an Autistic” or “autistic people”. Some people use this language as a way to focus on the whole person, not just their disability. Disability is just one part of the person and their identity. Person First Language avoids labeling people by their disabilities.

If you are using Person First Language, avoid using expressions that express a deficit mindset or imply tragedy such as “people who suffer from epilepsy”, “an individual who is confined to a wheelchair” or “a victim of down syndrome”. It perpetuates negative stereotypes of people with disabilities.

The preferences between Person First and Identity First language vary person to person. There is no universal standard for this. It is recommended that we use Person First Language as a general good practice until an individual shares with us what specific language they use to refer to themselves and their identity. Or, ask someone which way they prefer to be identified.

Universal Design

Universal Design is the design and composition of an environment so that it can be accessed, understood and used to the greatest extent possible by all people regardless of their age, size, and ability. An environment (or any building, product, or service in that environment) should be designed to meet the needs of all people who wish to use it. Universal Design is not a special requirement for the benefit of only a ‘minority’ of the population. Universal design is simply good design. If an environment is accessible, usable, convenient and a pleasure to use, everyone benefits.

Universal Design in Learning (UDL) means we think about and account for all the different kinds of learners, and the different ways that people learn, when we design and deliver a lesson. When we do this, we can often reduce the need for specific accommodations for students with disabilities. Universal Design benefits all learners, not just those with disabilities. Universal Design in Learning acknowledges and respects that there are many ways of knowing, many ways of learning, and many ways of expressing knowledge. Universal design in learning considers:

  • multiple means of engagement (we use a variety of ways to motivate and engage students in learning and content)
  • multiple means of representation (we communicate course content in various formats and pedagogical approaches)
  • multiple means of action and expression (we use various kinds of assessments so students can show what they know or can do)

Universal instructional design is an approach that fosters inclusion and equity by stating that the way we teach and assess should

  • be accessible and fair
  • be straightforward and consistent
  • provide flexibility in use, participation and presentation
  • be explicitly presented and readily perceived
  • provide a supportive learning environment
  • minimize unnecessary physical effort of requirements
  • ensure a learning space that accommodates both students and instructional methods
  • promote interaction and communication among students and between students and the instructor
  • promote a welcoming and inclusive learning environment

Learning Resources

In 2022, in a collaborative project with Career and Transition Services (CATS), the Office of EDI hired three Bishop’s University students to curate these learning resources.


Reconceptualizing Disability in Education by Luigi Iannacci

This book provides a critical exploration of problematic discourses, practices, and pedagogies that inform how disability is presently understood and responded to within the field of education. This book seeks to advance human rights for people with disabilities in educational contexts by clarifying and operationalizing inclusion and disrupting common responses to disability that prevent inclusion and human rights from being realized.

Disability Visibility by Alice Wong

Disability rights activist Alice Wong brings tough conversations to the forefront of society with this anthology. It sheds light on the experience of life as an individual with disabilities, as told by authors with these life experiences.

Demystifying Disability by Emily Ladau

An approachable guide to being a thoughtful, informed ally to disabled people, with actionable steps for what to say and do (and what not to do) and how you can help make the world a more accessible, inclusive place.

Learning Outside the Lines by Jonathan Mooney and David Cole

Written by two Ivy League graduates who struggled with learning disabilities and ADHD, Learning Outside the Lines teaches students how to take control of their education and find true success with brilliant and easy study suggestions and tips.

Academic Ableism: Disability and Higher Education by Jay T. Dolmage

This book brings together disability studies and institutional critique to recognize the ways that disability is composed in and by higher education. The author argues that universities perceive disability as a distraction, a drain, and  a problem to be solved. The ethic of higher education encourages students and teachers alike to accentuate ability, valorize perfection, and stigmatize intellectual, mental, or physical weakness. Dolmage shows how disability is central to higher education, and that building more inclusive schools allows better education for all.

Lived Experiences of Ableism in Academia: Strategies for Inclusion in Higher Education

This collection explores ableism in academia from the viewpoint of academics’ personal and professional experiences and scholarship. Through the theoretical lenses of autobiography, autoethnography, embodiment, body work and emotional labour, contributors from the UK, Canada and the US present insightful, critical, analytical and rigorous explorations of being ‘othered’ in academia. Deeply embedded in personal experiences, this book provides examples for universities to develop inclusive practices, accessible working and learning conditions and a less ableist environment.

Feminist, Queer, Crip by Alison Kafer

Alison Kafer imagines a different future for disability and disabled bodies. Challenging the ways in which ideas about the future and time have been deployed in the service of compulsory able-bodiedness and able-mindedness, Kafer rejects the idea of disability as a pre-determined limit. She juxtaposes theories, movements, and identities such as environmental justice, reproductive justice, cyborg theory, transgender politics, and disability that are typically discussed in isolation and envisions new possibilities for crip futures and feminist/queer/crip alliances. This bold book goes against the grain of normalization and promotes a political framework for a more just world.

Enforcing Normalcy by Lennard J. Davis

From the preface, the author writes that “This book tries to think through some of the complex issues raised by concepts such as the body, the normal, the abnormal, disability, the disabled, people with disabilities. I wrote this book because I believe deeply that people with disabilities, Deaf people, and others who might not even consider themselves as having a disability have been relegated to the margins by the very people who have celebrated and championed the emergence of multiculturalism, class consciousness, feminism, and queer studies from the margins.”

Occupying Disability: Critical Approaches to Community, Justice, and Decolonizing Disability

This book explores the concept of “occupation” in disability beyond clinical/medical models of disability. The author explores disability as a social identity shaped by society, perception, culture, and environment. This book offers some practical ideas about how to apply theoretical understanding to real world contexts.

Nothing About Us Without Us: Disability Oppression and Empowerment by James I. Charlton

The author blends disability theory with real life accounts of disability oppression. This book focuses on the everyday life of people with disabilities, and shows how barriers to independent living are embedded in the larger social and economic environment. The book includes interviews with disability rights activists from the Americas, Asia, South Africa, and Europe.

UDL Now: A Teacher’s Guide for Applying Universal Design for Learning by Katie Novak

The author provides practical insights and savvy strategies for helping all learners succeed in a post-pandemic world using the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL).


The Accessible Stall with Emily Ladau and Kyle Khachadurian

Casual conversations and friendly arguments about both light and heavy everyday disability topics, with two good disabled friends who often have different takes on disability issues. Transcripts are included. A good starter episode is Episode 87 (Disability Etiquette).

Disability Visibility Project with Alice Wong

In-depth interviews and discussions with disability community leaders and creators, on disability identity, culture, activism and politics, with an emphasis on intersections of disability and race, gender, sexuality, and other marginalized identities. Transcripts are included.

Power Not Pity with Brie M.

Exploring the full range of disability experience, particularly through the stories and work of disabled people of colour. Transcripts are included.

Disabled as Folk with Laurel Carter and Carly Neis

A new Canadian podcast aims to highlight the struggles two Edmonton friends face as people living with disabilities.

Disability and the Canadian Church with Keith Dow and Jasmine Duckworth

A podcast that talks about the intersections of disability and the Christian faith in Canada.

20 Best Disability Podcasts offered through FeedSpot (requires a subscription)