Combating Ableism

To practise anti-ableism, it is important to ensure that the needs and wants of people with disabilities are included in the social norms and rules of our larger society. We can facilitate positive attitudes and behaviours when relating to or interacting with a person with a disability. Below are listed some considerations for combating ableism.

Ask first

Do not assume someone wants or needs your help. You may offer assistance if it appears needed but first interact directly with the person to determine if and how you can help. Respect the individual’s dignity and comply with the person’s preference. Listen and ask before you act. For example, you might say, “It looks like you might be struggling with that door, can I offer any help?”

Physical contact

Some people with disabilities need and expect their physical bodies to provide them stability and allow their independent navigation of their environment. Even if well-intentioned, grabbing someone’s arm or the items they are carrying could set the person off balance and, consequently, impact their safety. Avoid patronising behaviour, such as patting someone on the head, treating them as a child, or touching or handling their wheelchair and other mobility aids without consultation. People with disabilities often consider their equipment an extension of their bodies and a part of their personal space.

When speaking to someone at length, consider how you can facilitate the conversation. For example, if someone is seated in a wheelchair and you are standing above them, there may be a feeling of power imbalance. You may want to position your self at the person’s eye level by sitting in a chair across from them. Allow for a comfortable space, and be aware of hovering.

Manner of Speech

Talk directly to the individual with a disability, do not address their companion or support person as an interpreter. Everyday expressions such as “see you later” or “I have to run” are part of our common language and there is no need to apologise or feel embarrassed if it relates to one’s disability. An apology may draw negative attention or be more offensive than using the expression as you would with anyone else.


Respect the privacy of the person with a disability and protect their confidentiality when discussing sensitive or personal matters and when collecting, storing, or using personal information with them or on their behalf.

Do not make assumptions

People with disabilities are the best judge of their own ability. Choices should be presented to an individual and they should be encouraged to make their own decisions (for example, as to when and how they might choose to take part in an activity). Opportunities to participate should consider the interests and needs of a full range of persons with disabilities. People with disabilities of diverse backgrounds are the best source of consultation around options to be considered, offered, and maintained.

Assumptions to question

  • “If a student requires accommodations, they can’t handle post-secondary”
  • “Accommodations are a bane to meritocracy”
  • “Accommodations provide an unfair advantage”
  • “Some students are abusing accommodations”

Group of Students Interacting

Guide: PDF Version