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The notion of ableism has been intensively studied in modern literature. The term refers to effective discrimination targeted against individuals with disabilities, favoring those who are not disabled. An ableist environment (educational, corporate, or societal) is the one that poses a threat to disabled individuals, stating that non-disabled people must be regarded as the standard for ‘normal living.’ Therefore, this literature review will focus on the exploration of ableism in education, work environment, and community in order to address the problem and ensure equal treatment for all members of the society regardless of their disabilities.
The article written by Ashley Taylor (2012) addressed the concept of the capabilities approach that underlined the importance of educational equality in order to respond to the existing social injustices. The author put forward the view that education prepares individuals for the future participation in the social and political life of the community; therefore, excluding disabled individuals from education will result in excluding them from life in general. Taylor (2012) advocated for the capabilities approach as a method of ensuring educational justice and normalizing disability in a society when it is excluded (p. 113).
Burke and Wolbring (2010) supported the view held by Taylor (2012) and stated that education is a human right in itself, which presents a basis for democracy, economic stability, health, family, and environmental sustainability (p. 235). Researchers explored the BIAS FREE Framework and concluded that the initiatives implemented for enhancing education should be combined to increase their effectiveness and support the development of an equitable approach where all human beings regardless of their status or disability can exercise their rights.
Smith, Foley, and Chaney (2008) raised an issue of ableism not being recognized as a concern for education since it is viewed as a defect rather than a difference (p. 304). Authors advocated for increasing the need for disability-related counselor competence since almost twenty percent of Americans have some disability due to many factors (inheritance or even combat trauma). Due to the fact that more in more individuals with disabilities are entering higher education settings, the government is presented with a challenge or providing counseling services for them. Therefore, the society should get to grips with the understanding that counselors should be educated on the needs of the disabled individuals and address their challenges (stress, anxiety, and depression) when they enter an education setting.
Hutcheon and Wolbring (2012) examined the experiences of disabled students in post-secondary education within the framework of “body-social-self” (p. 39). Researchers concluded that the sphere of higher education must address the differences between individuals in their abilities since disabled students are presented with tremendous barriers (social, emotional, and physical) in their post-secondary education. They underlined the importance of enhanced financial support and peer awareness for facilitating inclusion in secondary education on a full range of levels.
According to Fiona Kumari (2009), addressing the issue of ableism in the context of societal processes is similar to dealing with the concept of “whiteness” in race theory or “masculinity” in gender studies (p. 638). The author argued that society should shift the focus on concentrating on what the studies of disability teach people about ableism developed and operated. For Kumar, the idea of ableism is a cultural project that is repeatedly performed in society and is very hard to control since the people affected by ableism do not have control over it.
Hodge and Runswick-Cole (2013) examined the participation of disabled families (including their children and teenagers) in leisure activities (p. 311). Researchers focused on the idea of disabled childhoods to challenge the ableist practices and give children an opportunity to move beyond such notions as “other” and “normal” in order to function more freely within their communities (Hodge & Runswick-Cole, 2013, p. 322). Moreover, the authors underlined the fact governmental initiatives should promote the agenda of inclusion and include disabled children in mainstream leisure settings.
Munger and Mertens (2011) studied the theoretical and philosophical frameworks as a basis for discussing the available research practices, putting an emphasis on cultural differences because various societies have contrasting views on disability (p. 23). The authors underlined the importance of studying the notion of disability within the cultural and community context as a way of promoting the ideas of social justice and offering disabled members of communities with a range of extended opportunities and resources. Researchers offered to adhere to the transformative paradigm for offering people with disabilities an opportunity to change for achieving the high standards of social justice (Munger & Mertens, 2011, p. 31).
An extensive essay written by Basas (2013) attempted to combine the studies of law, feminist theory, and cultural studies for examining the status of women attorneys that have disabilities (p. 32). By conducting a study with a sample of thirty-eight women attorneys with disabilities, Basas was able to analyze processes of discrimination within the sphere of the legal profession. The researcher concluded that there is a concerning trend of ableism targeted at women with disabilities operating in the legal sphere; the study participants indicated that they were used to accommodating themselves in the workplace instead of enforcing their human rights outlined in the Americans with Disabilities Act. Such findings suggest that the legal environment should employ appropriate modifications to tailor to individuals with disabilities and ensure an inclusive environment for all.
Mik-Meyer (2016) also focused on exploring ableism in the context of a corporate environment and dedicated her research on how non-disabled employees engage in discrimination of their co-workers with disabilities (p. 1). The study involved nineteen managers and forty-three employees that worked with an employee that had cerebral palsy. The key finding of the research was that employees referred to individuals with visible disabilities as “different” (Mik-Meyer, 2016, p. 4). The othering of employees with disabilities directly relates to the concept of ableism that limits individuals’ right to inclusiveness and tolerance.
The last piece to be included in this literature review is the article by Chacala, McCormack, Collins, and Beagan (2014) that addressed the issue of disability and ableism within the profession of disabled occupational therapists. The topic of the research is particularly beneficial because disabled therapists can offer a unique and valuable perspective on disabilities as well as put forward crucial challenges that the sphere of occupational therapy takes for granted. It was found that some colleagues and managers had negative perceptions of the disabled therapists, which presented a significant barrier to their practice. Inequality was exacerbated since disabled therapists were responsible for “creating bridges” between different perceptions of ableism. However, study participants indicated that their disabilities enhanced the practice instead of limiting it.
Basas, C. (2013). The new boys: Women with disabilities and the legal profession. Berkeley Journal of Gender, Law & Justice, 25(1), 32-94.
Burke, B., & Wolbring, G. (2010). Beyond education for all: Using ableism studies lens and the BIAS FREE framework. Development, 53(4), 535-539.
Chacala, A., McCormack, C., Collins, B., & Beagan, B. (2014). “My view that disability is okay sometimes clashes”: Experience of two disabled occupational therapists. Scandinavian Journal of Occupational Therapy, 21, 107-115.
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Hodge, N., & Runswick-Cole, K. (2013). ‘They never pass me the ball’: Exposing ableism through the leisure experiences of disabled children, young people and their families. Children’s Geographies, 11(3), 311-325.
Hutcheon, E., & Wolbring, G. (2012). Voices of “disabled” post-secondary students: Examining higher education “disability” policy using an ableism lens. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 5(1), 39-49.
Kumari, F. (2009). Contours of ableism: The production of disability and abledness. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.
Mik-Meyer, N. (2016). Othering, ableism and disability: A discursive analysis of co-worker’s construction of colleagues with visible impairments. Human Relations, 69(6), 1-23.
Munger, K., & Mertens, D. (2011). Conducting research with the disability community: A rights-based approach. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 132, 23-33.
Smith, L., Foley, P., & Chaney, M. (2008). Addressing classism, ableism, and heterosexism in counselor education. Journal of Counseling & Development, 86, 303-309.
Taylor, A. (2012). Addressing ableism in schooling and society? The capabilities approach and students with disabilities. In C. Ruitenberg (Ed.), Philosophy of education (pp. 113-121), Urbana, IL: Philosophy of Education Society.