When the fact that some people are more privileged than others just because of their physical/mental condition goes unnoticed by people who enjoy that privilege, it curtails the opportunity for open interactions to make society more inclusive for everyone, irrespective of their abilities. Only when this privilege is identified can we work towards creating an accessible, inclusive and empowering atmosphere for everyone.

When an able-bodied person is unaware of their privilege over a disabled person, they may say things or do things which discriminate against the person with disability. This is called ableism. 'Ableism and other 'isms', are discrimination and prejudice acted upon other people because of perceived differences. Ableism is when the perceived difference is disability.'4 Able-bodied privilege and ableism are closely connected. The former exists because of the prevalence of the latter in society. When people realize this, ableism will stop.

Disabled people have channelized their experiences into creating what is known as the Able-Bodied Privilege Checklist. The interesting thing about these is the fact that many of the pointers are so natural for able- bodied people that they don't spare a thought for how privileged they are to be able to do them! The following is a part of an example checklist by Canadian disability activist Melissa Graham5:

  1. If I am in the company of people that make me uncomfortable, I can easily choose to move elsewhere.
  2. I can easily find housing that is accessible to me, with no barriers to my mobility.
  3. I can turn on the television and see people of my ability level widely and accurately represented.
  4. I can do well in a challenging situation without being told what an inspiration I am.
  5. If I ask to speak with someone "in charge", I can be relatively assured that the person will speak directly to me and not treat me like I am stupid.
  6. As I grow up from childhood I will not feel that my body is inferior or undesirable, and that it should be "fixed", allowing me to feel confident in my current and future relationships.
  7. When speaking with medical professionals, can expect them to understand how my body works, to answer my questions, and respect my decisions.
  8. My neighbourhood allows me to move about on sidewalks, into stores, and into friends' homes without difficulty.
  9. People do not tell me that my ability level means I should not have children. They will be happy for me when I become pregnant, and I can easily find supportive medical professionals and parents like me.
  10. I can be reasonably sure that my ability level will not discourage employers from hiring me
  11. I can choose to share my life with someone without it being seen as a disadvantage to them
  12. If people like me have been discriminated against in history, I can expect to learn about it in school, and how that discrimination was overcome.
  13. All people like me are seen as living lives that are worth living.

A checklist for neurotypical privilege has been developed by autistic persons which clarifies the differences6.

There is a pattern that emerges here. All these privileges can be categorized into six groups:

  1. Accessibility
  2. Personal freedom
  3. Respect and dignity
  4. Employment rights
  5. Family and relationship rights

In a diverse and inclusive society, these six privileges must become the fundamental rights of all.

next: Ableist Language