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Talila “TL” Lewis provides the following working definition of ableism:
A system that places value on people’s bodies and minds based on societally constructed ideas of normalcy, intelligence and excellence. These constructed ideas of normalcy, intelligence and excellence are deeply rooted in anti-Blackness, eugenics and capitalism. This form of systemic oppression leads to people and society determining who is valuable and worthy based on people’s appearance and/or their ability to satisfactorily produce, excel and ‘behave.’ You do not have to be disabled to experience ableism.
Practicing inclusivity in writing means intentionally looking at constructed ideas of normalcy, intelligence, and excellence and actively questioning these ideas as we write and in our writing. When we do not question our assumptions, it is likely that ableist ideas and language will appear in our writing because these ideas circulate in our societies all the time.
Steps for writing about ableism, disability, mental health, and neurodiversity
Think critically about relevance
Frame ideas carefully
Respect experiences and identities
Learn about the medical and social models of disability
Learn about person-first and identity-first language
For more resources and examples:
- Autistics United Resource List
- Autistic Self-Advocacy Network Resource List
- Inclusive Language Style Guide
- Identity-First Language & Disability Terminology:
- “Journalists should learn to carefully traverse a variety of disability terminology”
- “Which terms should be used to describe autism?” (academic article)
- Person First Language
- Radical Copyeditor blog post about the issues with “person-first” language
- The “Puzzle Piece” image often associated with autism and why it is not inclusive
- BCCDC COVID-19 Language Guide - inclusive writing about COVID-19
You can download the complete Inclusive and Antiracist Writing Guide, with expanded explanations, on the Overview Page.
 Lewis, TL. (2019, March 5). Longmore lecture: Context, clarity & grounding. [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.talilalewis.com/blog/longmore-lecture-context-clarity-grounding
Another blog post, Disability Ain’t for Ya Dozens (or Demons): 10 Ableist Phrases Black Folks Should Retire Immediately, includes a number of terms to stop using and links for more information on each.