Ableism: My thoughts 1 year later…

Blogging Against Disablism Day, May 1st 2009

Last January I blogged about my reflections following reading: New Directions in Education: Eliminating Ableism in Policy and Practice by Thomas Hehir. The following thoughts stuck with me and guided my practice over the past year.

  • Hehir defines ableism as ” deeply held negative attitudes toward disability that are analogous to racism”.

Then I looked up “racism” according to Merriam-Webster racism is:

  • “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race”.
    YIKES!! if we superimpose ableism onto racism that is frightening!!!!
  • In his book Hehir encourages educators to carefully consider each student individually rather than as a group of people with similar traits and capacities.
  • Hehir recommends that educators to consider all planning for students with disabilities through the lens of: minimizing the impact of the disability while maximizing the child’s ability to participate.

I have moved forward since with Hehir’s thoughts and Universal Design for Learning as a lens. So much has happened over the past year some of which you can read about in the other posts on my blog but one thing that has stuck out for me…

Someone told me that all the things I am currently researching and advocating (Universal Design for Learning, accessibility, inclusion……..) are just another swing of the educational pendulum (you know the one).

This comment always makes me stop to think…

I have come to the conclusion, however, that Universal Design for Learning cannot be a swing of the pendulum … a flash in the pan … Universal Design for learning is to education what Universal Design has been to architecture — the impetus behind constructing buildings that are physically accessible to all. Are we going to suddenly go back on that?

It may be a pendulum swing but it is not one that can swing back. Will we stop constructing sidewalks with curb cuts? Will we no longer provide closed captioning? Once we begin to redesign learning activities to accommodate the need of all students it will not be possible to reverse because it is about human rights.

At the Learning Assistance Teachers Association (LATA) conference in October of 2008 David Rose talked about the “moral imperative” to provide accessibility. Because we have the technology to provide accessibility it is incumbent on us as educators to provide it.

Ableism is about expecting all people to look, act, and be the same. Our strengths are in our diversity. My favorite video illustration of this is Animal School. Here is the you tube version:

(A clearer version of this video can be found at:

We all have our strengths – let’s celebrate them!!!

Thanks Diary of a Goldfish for the focus on combating Disablism – I am eager to read all the other bloggers’ posts!!

5 thoughts on “Ableism: My thoughts 1 year later…

  1. Thanks for sharing that video: I’d never seen it before. I know all about those pendulums in educational thought and theory, but I agree that there’s no going back from treating all children as unique learners – once you see that there are things you can do to help ALL children learn better, why would you discontinue those things?

  2. I like that video, all except the part where they say the goldfish can’t be in a regular class – he could, his curriculum would just look different… waterproof for a start 😉

  3. I have this same reaction every time I watch that video!!! I struggle, however, with the question about if the classroom is the best place for all kids and would love to hear your thoughts. What about a child who tends to be violent. I would like to believe that all students can be accommodated but I have seen situations that seem impassible. I really struggle with this.

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