Ability Privilege versus Ableism – What’s the difference?
How do you describe when a person gets more or better than someone else but is not earned by merit? As advocates, this is commonly referred to as privilege. There are many different types of privilege that affect us. We all have our own versions of privilege; those that we have and don’t have. In the context of disability support, this is referred to as abled privilege. I’m not talking about people discriminating against people with disabilities, because that’s ableism. That’s a totally separate issue.
So what is abled privilege? How is it different from ableism and all the other words ending with ‘ism? Such as racism, classicism, etc.
Abled or ability based privilege is a form of identity privilege. Any unearned benefit or advantage one receives in society by nature of their identity. Examples of aspects of identity that can afford privilege are race, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, class, wealth, ability, or citizenship status.
Privilege is something we can’t help having. Usually it’s something we are born with and is given to us by our society.
Ableism and other ‘isms, are discrimination and prejudice acted upon other people because of a perceived differences. Ableism is when the perceived difference is disability.
I can’t control the fact that I have two legs that allow me to walk and run, and that the majority of humans do this in a way that is similar to the way I do it. That’s my ableism privilege. What I can control is ableism. I can actively promote making places accessible to people that use alternative ways of getting around. Dismissing this as important to a person in a wheelchair would be ableism.
Privilege is a loaded term. That’s why it’s important to carefully define it. Try telling someone they are privileged and you’ll likely ruffle some feathers. No one likes to feel like they might be causing grief to another person. Especially when they have no control over their advantage, which is the case with privilege. Often privilege and discrimination are linked as though they are one and the same. They are not.
I really liked these 6 tips that Jamie Utt has for discussing privilege with people who don’t know what that is in an advocate context. So often in supports we are called upon to help people advocate for their rights. To do this we must first explain how those rights are being ignored and very often that can be a privilege based discussion. Jamie’s got some very helpful hints for making those conversations flow smoother.
This teacher explains and demonstrates privilege to his students in an awesome way. It’s an inclusive way to get everyone involved in an able-ism privilege discussion. Getting conversations like these rolling is a powerful way to put a new frame of reference on issues and help people to embrace person centered thinking. Like Spiderman’s Uncle Ben said, “With great power, comes great responsibility.” Privilege is power and should be recognized as such. We can all use our privileges to break down barriers and our lack of privilege to create empathy and understanding.
The University of San Francisco had a marketing campaign that they called ‘Check Your Privilege.’ Although I’m not a fan of ‘check your privilege’ as a slogan because it is often used in an aggressive and shaming context, I did really like their posters. My favorite had this quote, “Becoming aware of privilege should not be viewed as a burden or source of guilt, but rather, an opportunity to learn and be responsible so the we may work toward a more just and inclusive world.”
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