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From the Editor

This year marks the 32nd anniversary of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), the federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities. While I appreciate the strides that have been made in disability rights over the years, more needs to be done.

Ableism is essentially discrimination in favor of those without disabilities. For example, a self-advocate is looking for a job. His previous job involved busing and cleaning at a restaurant. For his next job, his job coach can’t seem to envision anything beyond busing and cleaning. Granted, it would be easier to build upon that experience, and the job coach sincerely wants success for this person. But wouldn’t it be great if the job coach saw beyond the disability and began exploring other job opportunities?

As it relates to employment, ableism prevents the job coach from seeing all the possibilities out there and instead, relegates this person to cleaning. Often, thinking outside of the box is reserved for those without disabilities. While this is a hypothetical scenario, we can all identify with similar real-life situations. 

This issue features disability activists who discuss ableism in the hope that we will all do better at recognizing ableism and confronting it wherever we can. 

Best to you and yours,

Maria Schaertel

What is Ableism?

Ableism is a system in which being nondisabled is treated as a standard of normal living. In other words, ableism promotes the belief that people with disabilities are inferior to those without disabilities.

From Understanding ableism in today’s world

Perspectives on Ableism

Christina Eisenberg

“To me, the root of ableism is stereotypes, assumptions, and a lack of disability awareness training. There needs to be more education around disability inclusion and open communication. We need to move away from a medical model of disability where disability equals deficit or less than.

Individuals with disabilities are often stifled when it comes to employment. Too often individuals with disabilities remain in entry level positions with little to no advancement opportunities or a “seat at the table.” In terms of finding employment, ableism has historically hindered advancement of individuals with disabilities in that appropriate access to opportunities is not always considered. Lack of accessible employer websites with representation of individuals with disabilities can be a barrier or discourage qualified individuals from applying for opportunities.

It is crucial that employers begin to look at recruitment, retention and advancement with a lens of disability and creating an inclusive organizational culture that welcomes all. Equal access equals good business!”

Christina Eisenberg is Director of Employment Equity at Starbridge. Starbridge is a part of the Employment Equity Coalition, a collaborative initiative comprised of more than 30 Rochester-area organizations, experts, and partners dedicated to increasing equitable workforce opportunities, decreasing poverty, and removing barriers for people with disabilities in Monroe County. To learn more, please contact Christina Eisenberg, Director of Employment Equity, at 585-224-7227 or [email protected]

Jeiri Flores

“Ableism is a huge, multifaceted issue that is hard for a lot of folks to comprehend. It looks and feels different for everyone and its intensity varies.

For me it’s something I can’t escape – it’s a low buzz that lives around me and sometimes even in me. It’s in the way some folks talk to me. It’s the waiter who refuses to acknowledge that I can pay the bill. It’s the random woman at the grocery store who crowds me and insists on helping me. It’s the professors who make careless comments about how students develop while not acknowledging that their curriculum is lacking disability representation. It's working at a place where the powers at be use you as a token and never plan for you to join the leadership team. Honestly it’s my friends and family who I have to constantly remind of how unjust life can be.

Ableism is infused into all parts of life. Change can only happen when folks acknowledge that there's a problem.”

Jeiri Flores is a disability rights advocate, writer, speaker, and a fellow who shares her perspectives as a person with a disability to Strong Center for Developmental Disabilities training, community service, research and policy efforts. She provides insights regarding inclusion, citizenship, disability intersectionality, and challenges that remain unaddressed by society.


Emily Ladau

“I define ableism as attitudes, actions, and circumstances that devalue people on the basis of disability. It tends to be the "-ism" that's left out of broader conversations about discrimination, but it can be incredibly pervasive, both on interpersonal and systemic levels. It also frequently overlaps with other forms of discrimination, such as racism.

Ableism is deeply rooted in society’s misconceptions and fears related to disability. This lack of understanding and discomfort stems from the fact that disability is perceived as a niche issue, if it’s even thought about at all, or it’s deemed taboo to talk about. It’s left out of school curricula, underrepresented in the media, and too often reduced to either inspiration or tragedy.

I think it's vital to remind people that disability cuts across any and all other identities, and that disabled people comprise more than 15% of the global population. To shift away from ableism, we must learn about disability history, culture, and identity, and recognize that disability is a natural part of the human experience.

Parents and family members can be strong allies in the fight against ableism, so long as they keep in mind that it’s essential to not speak over or on behalf of disabled people. Instead, allyship is about advocating in partnership with and alongside the disability community.

When encountering ableism, consider how you might offer constructive feedback to the person or entity that’s perpetuating it. While there are many cases where public call-outs can be incredibly effective, sometimes it helps to call people in instead, which means having a direct, open conversation to educate someone, share resources, and encourage them to do better moving forward.”


Emily Ladau is a Disability Rights Activist, Communications Consultant, and Author.

Demystifying Disability: What to Know, What to Say, and How to be an Ally

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Mind the Gap program at Starbridge

Could you or someone you know use some help bridging the gap between getting a diagnosis for your child and receiving services? Learn more about Mind the Gap by calling the Starbridge Intake number at (585) 224-7359 or use the Contact form on the Starbridge website.

Additional Resources

Opinion: Eliminate ableism in New York’s community engagement and planning

Emily Ladau on disability, ableism, and being proud of who you are

Understanding ableism in today’s world

The Pretty One: On life, pop culture, disability, and other reasons to fall in love with me by Keah Brown

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