What is ableism?

Ableism is manifested in our society in a variety of ways. Thomas Hehir, a disability activist and scholar describes ableism as “the devaluation of disability that, resulting in societal attitudes that uncritically assert that it is better for a child to walk than roll, speak than sign, read print than read Braille, spell independently than use a spell-check, and hang out with non-disabled kids as opposed to other disabled kids” (Hehir, 2002).

There is an English proverb that states, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” American society attempts to condition children to be “tough” and to ignore hurtful words and actions. Unfortunately words do hurt, and negative words, bullying, and being insensitive can have a pervasive impact on individuals.

Whether the words are used unconsciously or consciously doesn’t reduce the impact. Solorzano, Ceja, and Yosso (2001) explain this using their term “microaggressions,” which are the unconscious, automatic, and subtle insults directed towards a minority group. The insults can be verbal, non-verbal or visual. Often times these insults occur without the offender even being aware that their actions are negatively impacting others.

Research has shown that the cumulative effect of microaggresions can negatively impact both individuals and communities. Pierce (1995) explains the impact of prolonged exposure to discrimination, “In and of itself a microaggression may seem harmless, but the cumulative burden of a lifetime if microaggressions can theoretically contribute to a diminished mortality, augmented morbidity, and a flattened confidence.”

Person First Language

A simple rule to follow when speaking about people with disabilities is to acknowledge the disability, but put the person first. For example: “Person with a Disability” rather than “Disabled Person.” Person first language is a term and a movement based out of the disability rights movement and other advocacy groups beginning in the 1980’s.

Person-first language has been prescribed by advocacy groups, universities, and professional journals and associations as a linguistic norm; however its use has faced criticism. C. Edwin Vaughan states, “Many blind people are proud of the accomplishments of their brothers and sisters. Just as black became beautiful, blind is no longer a symbol of shame. To say, “I am blind” or “I am a blind person” no longer seems negative to many, particularly those groups with existential interest in the topic” (Vaughan, 2009).

There is no hard and fast rule relating to political correctness or etiquette in relation to disabilities.  *The following table presents some terms that are considered to be discriminatory and some alternative language that is more inclusive.

Non-inclusive discriminatory language Inclusive language

“special needs”

“special bus”

“special treatment”

Frames accommodations for a disability as “special treatment,” indicates that accommodations are a nuisance, a hassle, or something that isn’t really necessary. 


Inclusive terminology: Person(s) with disabilities, accommodations, education for people with disabilities.

“the disabled”  

“disabled people”

People with disabilities are not a homogeneous group. “Disabled people” puts the disability before the person. 


Inclusive terminology: Person(s)/people/individuals with disabilities

“wheelchair bound”  

“confined to a wheelchair”

It’s important to remember that not all people who use wheelchairs use them all the time. Confined/bound frames using a wheelchair as a negative/constricting experience. 


Inclusive terminology: “Julie is a full time wheelchair user,” “Julio is a part time wheelchair user.”

“Suffers from/sufferer/victim of”  

Example: “Consuelo suffers from depression.” “Gunther is a victim of a traumatic brain injury.”

We shouldn’t assume that a person with a disability is a victim or is suffering. Someone can be suffering and have a disability, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the person is suffering because of the disability. 

Inclusive terminology: “Consuelo has depression.” “Gunther has a traumatic brain injury.” These framings are value neutral. They provide information on the disability a person has, without turning victimizing them.

“mentally disabled” This term I vague, do you mean an intellectual or cognitive disability? “Mentally disabled,” in addition to often being read (and used) as a slur, is not terribly accurate. Any number of disabilities can involve the brain. 

Inclusive terminology: Cognitive, intellectual, or psychological disability.

“physically challenged” Disability is often framed as a “challenge” that must be “overcome” pressure is put on people with disabilities to be “brave.” 

Inclusive terminology: Person(s)/people/individuals with physical disabilities.

“crazy” Can be a destructive word, used to hurt people with mental disabilities. It’s used to discredit, to marginalize, and to shame people with psychological disabilities. Discourages people who have psychological disabilities to self-identify. 

Inclusive terminology: Person(s)/people/individuals with mental health problems, difficulties or conditions.

“spaz” Spaz/spak, both derived from “spastic” or other variations. Someone who is behaving erratically is spazzing or spakking out.



The use of the words lame, gimp, or retarded reinforces an underlying assumption that people who have a disability are also lesser and worthy of scorn, which in turn reinforces the underlying assumption that people with disabilities are inherently less than those without disabilities.
“Deaf and dumb” The original meaning of the phrase “deaf and dumb” was deaf (unable to hear) and unable to speak. It is an archaic and highly offensive phrase. Many Deaf people are able to speak. “Dumb” is also a synonym for “stupid.”


Ableism and Language written by: Jennifer Gossett for the What is Ableism? Workshop on November 15th, 2010


Solorzano, D., Ceja, M., & Yosso, T. (2000). Critical race theory, racial microaggressions, and campus racial climate. The Journal of Negro Education, Winter 2000(69), 60-73.

Pierce, C. (1995). Stress analogs of racism and sexism: Terrorism, torture, and disaster. In C. Willie, P. Rieker, B. Kramer, & B. Brown (Eds.), Mental health, racism, and sexism (pp. 277-293). Pitssburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.

Hehir, T. (2002). Eliminating ableism in education. Harvard Educational Review, 72(1), 1-33.

*Content for the table was collected and adapted from the following blogs:






More resources

Online PDFs:



Book: Microaggressions and Marginality: Manifestation, Dynamics, and Impact, Edited by Derald Wing Sue





New Student Programs & Family Outreach is now hiring 2012 START Leader and U-Engage Peer leader positions. Both positions allow you to work closely with new students and assist them with their transition to OSU.

U-Engage Peer Leader

U-Engage Peer Leaders work with a faculty member to coordinate a U-ENGAGE First-Year Experience course during Fall term. The U-Engage Leader position is not paid, but you can receive internship credit. Peer Leaders are also required to take a Spring Quarter training course.

START Leader

START Leaders work throughout the summer assisting with OSU?s orientation, advising, and registration program: START. START Leaders also have the opportunity to participate in CONNECT programs. START Leaders are required to take a Spring Quarter training course. This position is a paid position, with pay beginning during the summer.

For more information go to http://oregonstate.edu/newstudents or attend one of the information sessions below. Each session last about 30 minutes.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012
4:00pm Student Life Classroom Kerr Admin B009

Monday, January 23, 2012
12:00pm Student Life Classroom Kerr Admin B009

Tuesday, January 24, 2012
5:30pm Student Life Classroom Kerr Admin B009

Applications are due on Tuesday, January 31, 2012. Go to http://oregonstate.edu/newstudents to apply.

For any questions please contact New Student Programs & Family Outreach at 541-737-7627 or newstudents@oregonstate.edu

The Center for Civic Engagement is hosting several service projects on Saturday, January 14th as part of OSU’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Weeklong Celebration. This is part of the 25th Annual MLK Day of Service. On Saturday, January 14th we will come together to honor Dr. King’s life and legacy and help further his dream by serving our neighbors and communities. MLK Day is a perfect opportunity for Americans to honor Dr. King’s legacy through service. The MLK Day of Service empowers individuals, strengthens communities, bridges barriers, creates solutions to social problems, and moves us closer to Dr. King’s vision of a strong communities.

Students, staff, and faculty are invited to take part in service projects throughout the morning at various nonprofits in Corvallis as well as in the large food collection project taking place in the afternoon from 1:00pm – 3:30pm. All transportation will be provided and all projects will meet at McAlexander Fieldhouse.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?'”

REGISTER FOR PROJECTS HERE: https://surveys.bus.oregonstate.edu/main.aspx?SurveyID=4727.

Current MLK Projects for Saturday, January 14th, 2012

Stone Soup – serving meals
8am to 12pm, meet at McAlexander Fieldhouse at 7:30am
5 volunteers needed

Community Outreach, Inc. (homeless shelter and human services for low income populations)
9am to 12pm, meet at McAlexander Fieldhouse at 8:30am
Up to 15 volunteers (20 max)

Trillium Family Services (the largest mental health services provider in the State of Oregon)
9am to 12pm, meet at McAlexander Fieldhouse at 8:30am
12 volunteers needed

South Corvallis Food Bank – painting floors
12:30-4:30pm, meet at McAlexander Fieldhouse at 12pm
4 volunteers needed

Food Drive Bag Distribution
1:30pm to 3:30pm, meet at McAlexander Fieldhouse at 1pm
Up to 100 volunteers
All food collected will be donated to the OSU Food Pantry and Linn Benton Food Share

Corvallis Parks & Rec – outdoor environmental work at Martin Luther King Jr. Park
1:30-4:30pm, meet at McAlexander Fieldhouse at 1pm
10 volunteers needed

Accommodation requests related to a disability should be made to Emily Bowling at 541-737-7673 or emily.bowling@oregonstate.edu

Incight offers a scholarship for any student with a documented disability who plans to enroll as a full time-student for the 2012-2013 school year. Incight is a non-profit that empowers people with disabilities to become contributing members of society. We accomplish this through several dynamic programs focused in the areas of: Education, Employment, Networking, and Independence.

Since 2004, Incight has awarded more than 540 scholarships between $500.00 and $2500.00. Of these students who have received our 4-year scholarship, we have been able to coordinate over 120 internships and generated full-time employment for 12 of those who graduated from college. Additionally, we have partnered with 25 different institutions who have agreed to match our scholarship dollar for dollar.

In addition to providing financial assistance, Incight proves to be a valuable resource to our scholarship recipients by providing continuous support during the transition from high school to college, in seeking accommodations and adjusting to the college environment, and transitioning into the employment sector following graduation.

For more information, please visit: http://www.incight.org/

The Office of the Dean of Student Life is pleased to invite you to the 2012 Interfaith Community Service (IFCS) Conference taking place on Saturday, January 21 in the Memorial Union. The IFCS Initiative at Oregon State University (OSU) aspires to initiate meaningful dialogue between religious and nonreligious individuals, bringing together students from all walks of life under the common umbrella of community service. This conference will provide an open forum for students to engage with one another and share how their beliefs and values influence their decisions in life.

We hope to foster rich, eye-opening conversations through several service projects, followed by lunch and a debrief activity. Afterwords, we will host several round-table discussions and informational sessions for students that will encourage personal reflection and civil discourse with one another on topics tied to the value of service, personal meaning, and diverse religious/spiritual beliefs and practices. We will conclude our time together with a reception and keynote speaker.

The conference is free, and morning snacks and lunch will be provided!

Register now at https://atrial.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_9NChmWONDMewimE

Additional information, including a formal schedule, will be made available in the near future. If you have any questions, please contact Nicholas Martin or Hannah Pynn at the following email addresses:

Register for the Shattering Mental Health-isms: Building Inclusive Communities Workshop & explore how mental illness interfaces with the cycle of oppression. This workshop is for students, faculty, and staff. Thursday, December 15th, 9 am – 12-noon in the MU Journey Room.

Registration appreciated https://surveys.bus.oregonstate.edu/main.aspx?SurveyID=4689

Accommodations related to disability may be made by contacting Michele at 541.737.2131 or Jodi Nelson at 541.737.0715 no less than one week prior to the event.Sponsored and facilitated by members of the OSU Campus Coalition Builders and the OSU Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS).

Be prepared this Winter by signing up for OSU’s Campus Alert at http://alert.oregonstate.edu.

Information about University closures will be posted:

  1. On the University’s OSU Campus Alert website at http://alert.oregonstate.edu/.  Announcements of closures or curtailments will typically also be noted on the OSU home web page, http://oregonstate.edu, with a headline linking readers to the OSU Campus Alert home web page.
  2. Online via the FlashAlert Newswire at http://www.flashalert.net/.  On the map, click on a city in the Willamette Valley, then “Public Colleges & Universities” and choose Oregon State University to see any current information or new announcements.
  3. The OSU Department of Public Safety/Oregon State Police Emergency Status Information Phone provides current information about weather alerts and closures as well as campus emergencies.  The recorded phone message will report the status of campus (open or closed) and information related to the emergency or closure situation.  You may access this information 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by dialing 541-737-8000.

The new Emerging Leaders Course, designed for students new to leadership, aims to accomplish the following goals:

• Assist students in personal and professional development;

• Introduce students to different leadership styles and leadership identity development;

• Present opportunities for students to learn about and reflect on their personal leadership style, communication
style, talents, strengths and goals; and

• Provide a foundation for participation in future student leadership opportunities, internships, and other professional development.

Registration information: Emerging Leaders, AHE 499, CRN 38642, 2 credits, Wednesdays, 4-5:50pm, Instructor – Melissa Yamamoto

Get involved in one of the following events through the Center for Civic Engagement…

Linn Benton Food Share Food Packing Service Project
Tuesday November 15th, 4:30-7:30pm

The service project will run 5-7pm. Vans will leave campus at 4:30pm from the MU and return at 7:30pm to the MU. RSVP for this service project to beaver.volunteer@oregonstate.edu. Please denote if you need transportation. This project has a capacity of 50 volunteers so register today!

Faces of Homelessness Panel

Wednesday November 16th, 7-8:30pm, MU 109 Hear about homelessness issues from local experts and learn about Benton County’s 10 year plan to eliminate homelessness from Benton County Commissioner Jay Dixon! Bring a can of food to the event if possible. Food donations will be made to the OSU food pantry.

Toiletry Donation Drive

November 7th to November 18th

Boxes located at the MU Info Desk, MU Java Stop, Dixon, Snell, and the Valley Library (outside Java II).

Toiletries including non-alcoholic mouthwash, toothpaste, disposable razors, deodorants
shaving cream, toothbrushes, soap, shampoo, lotion, feminine hygiene products, toilet paper, dental floss, hand sanitizer will be collected. Donations will be donated to Community Outreach, Inc. Donations should be unused and unopened.

For more information about how to get engaged and make a difference in the Corvallis area, contact the CCE at beaver.volunteer@oregonstate.edu, 541.737.3041, or visit Snell 158

A message for the OSU community from Dr Tracy Bentley-Townlin, Associate Dean for Student Life & Director of Disability Access Services.

As we move towards Halloween, I want to remind our community of OSU’s commitment to diversity: “OSU understands diversity is essential to excellence and therefore commits itself to integrating core institutional values of diversity, integrity, respect, social responsibility, and accountability into every dimension of the University’s life (http://oregonstate.edu/leadership/strategic-plan).

As you engage in activities deemed to recognize Halloween, I encourage you to be mindful of how you celebrate and whether or not your costume selection is harmful to others. One example of what is meant by being harmful to others can be found at Ohio State University which has initiated the campaign, “We’re a culture, not a costume,” which can be found here: http://lissawriting.wordpress.com/2011/10/23/racism-think/

As with all social and academic activities, please respect each other, our community and have a safe Halloween weekend.