We know what you are thinking… what in the world is able-bodied privilege? It is an excellent question because we as a society have been conditioned not to recognize the ways in which our race, gender or ability has been placed on a hierarchy. However, let’s break this down into simplest terms.
What does it mean to be able-bodied?
First, think and picture in your mind what a “normal” human being looks like. Be specific, what are they capable of doing? Can they see, can they walk up stairs? Are they able to read a book? Ask yourself these questions… what did you come up with? It is not shocking to assume that a “normal” human being should be able to walk up stairs, read a book or even go to a movie theatre to become lost within a film. Our ideals of what it means to be “normal” have been constructed over time to assume all of these facts, however it is important to note that our understandings of “ability” have ultimately been determined and manipulated through science and politics.
What does it mean to be “disabled”?
Disability occurs when an individual’s physical or mental abilities do not correspond with the demands of the environment, structures made readily apparent by “nature.” Individuals in society have been socialized to believe that there are “normal” structures and functions, physically “normal” ways to perform certain tasks, and “normal” roles based on one’s identity. Individuals who are unable to assimilate within the goal of normality are categorized outside the realm of what it means to be normal and are ultimately depicted as inferior and therefore as not quite human. Often described as “deficits,” we as a society have come to devalue these constructed understandings of “weakness” and are therefore governed by knowledge that idealizes a particular body. As a result, the non-disabled body, a body without physical or mental forms of “weaknesses” or “diseases” has effectively become naturalized as the normative, the preferred identity in which society as a collective aspires to embody.
What is Able-bodied privilege?
Defined as a “set of beliefs, presences and practices that produce – based on abilities one exhibits or values – a particular understanding of oneself, one’s body and one’s relationship with others,”1 ableism highlights characteristics and attributes that contrast “essential” abilities. Demonstrating the means as to which the “abnormal” disabled body is referred against the “normal” able body, privilege is maintained based on an understanding of the “the powerful” versus “the powerless.” Able-bodied privilege assumes that everyone can see, walk, hear and talk, for example, constructing environments around these “non-negotiable” attributes. However, it is obvious that not everyone can see, walk, hear or talk, and as a result, those with specific weaknesses are set at a disadvantage. For example, the notion of disability as “abnormal” outlines an assumption that disabled individuals must be returned back into the normal state of ability, reinforced as a problem within society that must be “cured.” From this, individuals who identify as able-bodied obtain certain privileges in society, such as having a world constructed for individuals who can walk up stairs. While we assume that buildings have always had stairs, we have easily forgotten that buildings were and continue to be designed for one particular body, one with two “functioning” legs. Therefore, it is important for us to rethink society with disability as the normative and the non-disabled as the problematic, as we all have different strengths and weaknesses that make us to unique to everyone else.
To understand able-bodied privilege, it is important to turn the gaze on ones-self and recognize locations of structural advantage that we often take for granted. Start to critic the world around you! For example, locate areas around you that not every individual can experience. By recognizing your privileges, we as a whole are one step closer to constructing a world in which every ability can be apart of.
So, help us Take the A out of Ableism.
1Wolbring, Gregor. “The Politics of Ableism.” Development 51 (2008): 252-253.