Disablism and ableism are words that are used to describe disability discrimination and prejudice. A bit like racism is used to describe discrimination against someone because of their colour, ethnicity, nationality or race.
Disablism is discrimination or prejudice against disabled people. Ableism is discrimination in favour of non-disabled people.
Discrimination can take many forms. Here are some examples:
- No ramp to help a wheelchair user get into a classroom
- Making assumptions about what a disabled person can or cannot do
- Not making reasonable adjustments in school or in the workplace
Disablism and ableism is wrong and you can get help to make it stop.
Disablist and ableist bullying can include:
- being called derogatory names or being sent insulting messages or threats because of your disability
- having your belongings damaged or having to see disablist or ableist graffiti
- personal attacks, including violence or assault
- being left out, treated differently or excluded
- people making assumptions about you because of your disability
- being made to feel like you are inferior because of your disability
- disablist or ableist jokes, including jokes about you speaking or moving differently, showing emotion differently or having specialist equipment and support
Disablist and ableist bullying can affect anyone. It can make people feel like they’re not important or don’t fit in. It might make people feel upset, depressed or angry. People can be affected by it even when it’s not aimed at them. For example, you might witness someone directly targeting somebody because of their disability.
Everybody has different abilities and disabilities and everyone has the right to be treated fairly and respected by others. A person with a disability has the same rights and access as anyone.
In January 2019, 14.9% of children in the UK were identified as having a diagnosed special educational need and/or disability (SEND).
According to Mencap UK, children with SEND are twice as likely as other children to be bullied regularly.
Intersectionality theory (Crenshaw, 1989) highlights that people are often disadvantaged or privileged by individual characteristics, which ‘intersect’ with one another and overlap: their race, age, gender identity, disability, sexual orientation, religion and other identity markers.
Many of these intersections include protected characteristics covered by the Equality Act 2010; which must be considered in regard to the intention and impact of the behaviours, and additional vulnerabilities.
While just one individual characteristic can make somebody more susceptible to discrimination, intersectionality allows us to recognise that some will have overlapping and cumulative vulnerabilities.
Equality Act 2010
Under the Equality Act 2010, schools must not discriminate. In their teaching of Relationships Education, schools should ensure that the needs of all pupils are appropriately met, and that all pupils understand the importance of equality and respect. Schools must ensure that they comply with the relevant provisions of the Equality Act 2010, under which disability is amongst the protected characteristics.
UN Convention on the Rights of a Child
The UN Convention on the Rights of a Child states that:
- The Convention applies to every child without discrimination, whatever their ethnicity, gender, religion, language, abilities or any other status, whatever they think or say, whatever their family background (Article 2 – non-discrimination)
- The best interests of the child must be a top priority in all decisions and actions that affect children (Article 3 - best interests of the child)
- A child with a disability has the right to live a full and decent life with dignity and, as far as possible, independence and to play an active part in the community. Governments must do all they can to support disabled children and their families (Article 23 – children with a disability)
- Every child has the right to an education. Primary education must be free and different forms of secondary education must be available to every child. Discipline in schools must respect children’s dignity and their rights (Article 28 – right to education)
- Education must develop every child’s personality, talents and abilities to the full (Article 29 – goals of education)
Ofsted expect schools to be environments where commonalities are identified and celebrated, difference is valued and nurtured, and bullying, harassment and violence are never tolerated.
Oxfordshire County Council – Committed to addressing inequality
As a county council, we have an important role to play in this. Each day we work hard to tackle inequality, protect the vulnerable, and help support the life chances of the many communities that live in Oxfordshire.
By listening to people’s concerns, taking on board feedback and suggestions, and putting in place a range of actions and interventions, we will work hard to ensure that equality and inclusivity are embedded into our policies, practices and service delivery and, most importantly, into our organisational DNA.
Local guidance and resources
- Oxfordshire guidance for dealing with prejudice related incidents and bullying (2019) (pdf format, 517Kb)
National guidance, resources and links
- Anti-Bullying Alliance - http://www.anti-bullyingalliance.org.uk/tools-information/all-about-bullying/groups-more-likely-experience-bullying/sen-disability
- Chidline - https://www.childline.org.uk/info-advice/bullying-abuse-safety/your-rights/discrimination-hate-crime-equality/
- Bullying UK - https://www.bullying.co.uk/advice-for-parents/advice-if-your-disabled-child-is-bullied/
- Disability History Month
- Books with positive images of disability
- Storybooks featuring disabled children from Scope
- Beyond Words is a charity that provides books and training to support people who find pictures easier to understand than words. Whether supporting somebody with a learning disability or communication difficulty, our resources empower people through pictures.
Local support for SEND children, young people and families
- SEND: The local offer - Oxfordshire's local offer of support and services for disabled children and young people.
- SAFE! Project support for young people who have been victims of crime, including bullying in relation to their race, age, disability, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion and other identity markers. SAFE! is a charity providing support in the Thames Valley area including Oxfordshire.
Mental health support
According to Mental Health UK, between 25 and 40% of people with learning disabilities also experience mental health problems. The mental health of SEND children and young people is important because people they often face individual and societal challenges that can affect access to healthcare and overall mental and physical health.
While one aspect of somebody’s identity can make them more susceptible to discrimination, having an intersectional identity can make them even more vulnerable.
It is therefore crucial that children with SEND are referred for mental health support when appropriate. Please contact https://www.oxfordhealth.nhs.uk/camhs/oxon/ for more information and to make a referral.