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Background and Purpose

The Disability:IN ERG/BRG Leadership Committee has prepared this fact sheet to assist corporate disability Employee Resource Groups/Business Resource Groups to advance a deeper understanding of thinking and actions that stem from misconceptions that surround disability.


Ableism – The practices, beliefs and attitudes, intentional or non-intentional, that assign inferior worth to people who have developmental, emotional, learning, neurodiverse, physical or psychiatric disabilities and are based on a medical (to be fixed) vs. social (a dimension of human difference) model for disability. It is a form of repression.

Audism – Discrimination or prejudice against individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Examples of Ableism & Audism


  • Company events focused solely on physically demanding activities
  • Company off-site social events in locations that are not accessible for all
  • Refreshment, Buffet and Dining Tables out of reach for wheelchair users or Little People
  • No early planning or insufficient quantity for Sign Language Interpreting and CART
  • Holding events that do not accommodate individuals adversely affected by noise and sensory overload


  • “I don’t even think of you as disabled”; “It’s wonderful that you have an Interpreter”
  • “I am so OCD”; “That person is crazy”
  • ‘Hearing Impaired,’ ‘Deaf and Dumb,’ ‘Midget’, ’Wheelchair Bound’
  • ‘They are a threat to the comfort and safety of others’
  • ‘They are an inconvenience, lazy, liars, or manipulators’


  • Utilizing words and tone used when speaking to a small child
  • Bending over or kneeling when speaking to a wheelchair user or Little Person
  • Uninvited touching the person or their mobility equipment
  • ‘Forced Help’ insisting on providing help neither requested nor wanted
  • Becoming insulted or condescending toward the person who declined assistance
  • Thinking that communicating with someone who is deaf or hard of hearing is “too much trouble.”


  • All disabilities are visible (75% are non-apparent).
  • People with disabilities need to assimilate and perform the job like it is usually done
  • ‘Gaslighting’ e.g. not believing a person with a disability who is offended or hurt by an action or comment as in “Do you really think that their comment was rude?”
  • Evaluating how disabled you think a person is by how they appear
  • Not believing someone when they state they have a disability and need an accommodation due to non-apparent disability

Strategies for Combating Ableism/Audism


  • Holding Education & Awareness Campaigns on Disability/Deaf-friendly environments
  • Providing reading materials about ableism/audism
  • Including/integrating disability training in all appropriate company trainings
  • Holding alternatives to experiential or simulation exercises. Good alternatives include:
    • Panel discussions;
    • Personal storytelling;
    • Hosting events presented by individuals and groups of individuals with disabilities on inclusive technology, sports, theatrical performances, and music productions.


  • Involving disability community representatives in policy and product development
  • Applying lessons from other communities such as the LGBTQ strategy
  • Handling performance management discussions separately from disability conversation
  • Coaching leaders and other employees on ableism/audism
  • Providing training on disability etiquette and respectful language choices
  • Sharing business case research and articles on disability as a competitive advantage
  • Including accommodation requests in all meeting invitations
  • Including workplace accommodations information during performance reviews
  • Providing closed captioning or CART services upon request for all large company meetings and having in place standard mechanism for making these requests when meetings are announced
  • Being aware of and able to readily direct people to the organization’s reasonable accommodations process


  • Removing yourself from ableist/audism conversations
  • Participating in disability campaigns/communications
  • Getting involved in awareness activities such as accessibility audits
  • Educating colleagues about Universal Design principles, e.g. inclusive features that are easily used by all such as level entrances with automatic doors
  • Knowing and Sharing company’s reasonable accommodations process
  • Being an empathetic listener when people with disabilities choose to confide in an ally and maintaining any requested confidences
  • Letting colleagues with disabilities know that if they need anything, you are available
  • Reminding co-workers that 75% of disabilities are non-apparent and to expect that any of their colleagues may have non-apparent disabilities
  • Becoming informed and doing your best to regularly utilize disability etiquette and respectful language choices (United Spinal Association Etiquette Guide)

Additional Actions to Consider (from the 7/15/19 ERG/BRG In-Person Committee Meeting)

  • Build engagement with local Disability:IN Affiliates on how to connect the dots around this subject
  • If an interview with a job candidate with a disability does not go well, offer a re-do (there may have been unrecognized Ableism/Audism conveyed that adversely affected the interviewee)
  • Plan education on this topic at the beginning of new employment life cycle initiatives
  • Include this topic for all training on cultural interactions
  • Recognize that experiential activities may result in sympathy and not empathy; but even empathy doesn’t mean “I know”
  • Start with the environment by being intentional up front. For example, all events and meetings should have Sign Language and CART as basic logistic requirements
  • Prepare educational materials in positive terms using ‘how to’ rather than ‘don’t do’ phrasing