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Ableism is a form of discrimination against disabled and chronically ill people. It is "a system that places value on people's bodies and minds based on societally constructed ideas of normalcy, intelligence, excellence and productivity." It determines who is valuable and worthy based on their appearance and/or ability to fulfill what society expects of them. - Talia A. Lewis [1]

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The above is from Talia A. Lewis

Ableism includes prejudices, discriminations, stereotypes, and social oppressions directed at people with disabilities. [2] Ableism can be assumptions, ideas, attitudes, stereotypes, practices and physical environmental barriers. It can also be larger oppressions that promote an unfair approach toward disabled people. [3] Whether it is conscious or not, ableism benefits non-disabled and able-minded people. Its impact and form change with national, local, and historical contexts. Ableism also names norms of able-bodied life and able-minded people. This is maintained and structured by cultural values, policies, and laws. [4]

Ableism determines who is valuable and worthy based on their appearance and ability to fulfill what society expects of them. You do not necessarily have to be disabled to experience ableism. Ableism is deeply rooted in capitalism, colonialism and white supremacy. The social construct of ableism in our society pushes the bodies and minds of people toward extraction and productivity. It commodifies these instances and entities as an instrument for labor and building wealth.

Climate injustices and environmental racism are shaped in that ableism matrix. [5] Climate change affects the world's poorest and most vulnerable people. Some estimates have suggested that 20% of those most susceptible to climate change are persons with disabilities. [6]  

Examples of Ableism

Eco-ableism [7]

Eco-ableism is "the marginalization of disabled people through environmental design; the exclusion of disabled people in environmental decision-making; and the discrimination against disabled people through environmental discourses, beliefs, and attitudes."   [8]

Most (but not all) cases of eco-ableism are environmental activism that focuses on individual action. Although, when it comes to a particular activity, it can always be discriminatory because not all people have the privileges or capacities to make sustainable choices. For some people, adopting these environmental changes would actually put their lives at risk. For example...

Disposable straws

Metal alternatives can cause serious to disabled people (consider the possibility of impairment, or the challenge to sanitize). Alternatives may cause allergies, be unpositionable, or dissolve in hot liquids.


Some people cannot prepare food or cook for themselves. Some people rely on internet shopping, and while many companies aren’t doing their part to reduce package waste, this isn’t the fault of disabled people that rely on this for their needs. Other people rely on wet wipes to clean themselves because of a limited ability to shower. 

Veganism for all

For many disabled people, they rely on a restricted diet due to food intolerances or challenges with swallowing, for example. This means following a vegan diet is not possible.

Exclusion in environmental policy

Disabled people are often ignored or not considered in public decision boards and (emergency) planning. For example, when designing flood protections or flood evacuations. While disabled people are mentioned in sustainability-focused policies, these policies often address a universalized (non-disabled) individual. [9]

Exclusion in green urban planning Urban planning that doesn't consult with disabled people may remove parking bays to make way for cycle lanes, promote active travel without realizing that some disabled people cannot walk, wheel, or cycle. Problems can also grow around recycling initiatives that do not adequately support disabled people who struggle to obtain information about recycling in accessible formats (i.e., in the braille language). [10]

Fighting eco-ableism requires including the needs of disabled people in these conversations, and recognizing that meeting their needs to survive is not the cause of climate destruction.

The COVID-19 Pandemic

Government and individual responses to the covid-19 pandemic, especially in Western Nations that value capitalism, colonialism and white supremacy, showed how ableism can manifest and be a serious threat to disabled and chronically ill people. For example...

Disposability discourse

Much discussion around the severity of COVID was lessened by expressing how it mainly sickens and kills elderly, chronically ill, and disabled people. This discourse suggests these groups are seen disposable. 

Loosened restrictions too early

When governments loosened COVID restrictions in response to business demands, political pressure, and public impatience, rather than scientific evidence, high risk populations (the chronically ill, disabled and elderly) were subsequently told they are disposable yet again. 

Working through illness

Regulations around how many sick days should be required when someone falls ill with COVID also demonstrated ableism. In relation to these regulations, and in favour of profit above health, many politicians including US President Joe Biden, praised themselves for working through COVID, instead of encouraging people to rest and recover if they'd fallen ill. 


Individuals have been encouraged to make 'personal' choices on vaccines (without legitimate health restrictions), masks and gatherings.

A special thanks to Bryan Giroux for their tremendous support compiling content for this page.

If you have any suggested revisions or additional resources to share related to the above content, please email them to

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  2. Bogart K. R., Dunn D. S. (2019). Ableism special issue introduction. Journal of Social Issues, 75(3), 650–664.
  3. Linton S. (1998). Claiming disability: Knowledge and identity. New York University Press.
  4. Cram, E., Law. P., M., Pezzullo., C. P. (2022). Cripping Environmental Communication: A Review of Eco-Ableism, Eco-Normativity, and Climate Justice Futurities. Environmental Communication, 16 (7), 851-863,
  5. Ali U., E. (n.d.). ECO-ABLEISM IN SOCIETY AND THE CLIMATE MOVEMENT. Fridays for Future.
  6. Watts B., J. (2020). Change, and Environmental Violence: The Politics of Invisibility and the Horizon of Hope. Disability, Climate Studies Quarterly,40 (4). 
  8. Pineda S., V. & Corburn, J. (2020). Disability, Urban Health Equity, and the Coronavirus Pandemic: Promoting Cities for All. Journal of Urban Health, 97 (3), 336–341.
  9. Fenney S., D. (2016). Sustainable lifestyles for all? Disability equality, sustainability, and the limitations of current UK policy. Disability & Society, 31 (4), 447-464.
  10. Fenney S., D. (2016). Sustainable lifestyles for all? Disability equality, sustainability, and the limitations of current UK policy. Disability & Society, 31 (4), 447-464.