The first thing that may come to people’s minds when they think of workplace discrimination isn’t ableism. Instead, most people think of gender, racial and ethnic discrimination. Partially due to a relative lack of increasing awareness, ableism remains a significant challenge that employees with disabilities often face in various professional environments.
Ableism, a form of discrimination, occurs when individuals with disabilities are marginalized, excluded or treated unfairly due to their physical or mental impairments. In the workplace, ableism can manifest subtly or overtly, creating barriers to equal opportunities and advancement.
What is ableism?
Ableism, at its core, is discrimination or prejudice (intentional or unintentional but unchecked) against individuals with disabilities. In the workplace, it manifests through biases, stereotypes and exclusionary practices that can hinder the professional growth of differently-abled employees.
The most common way through which ableism manifests is microaggressions. Microaggressions are subtle, often unintentional actions or comments that marginalize individuals based on their disabilities. But, ableism can also be expressed blatantly through direct actions, such as refusal to hire, unfair termination or denial of promotions based on disability. Failure to provide reasonable accommodations, such as wheelchair ramps or accessible technology, can also hinder employees with disabilities.
The impact of ableism in the workplace
Ableism affects differently abled individuals and stifles innovation within the organization. When diverse perspectives are silenced, opportunities for creative problem-solving can diminish, potentially hindering the career progress of talented individuals who are being discriminated against simply because they’re differently abled.
Experiencing ableism in the workplace can lead to a decline in employee morale, among other – more personalized – consequences. Individuals who feel undervalued or discriminated against are less likely to be engaged, impacting both individual and team performance.
Recognizing workplace discrimination is the first step towards liberating yourself from ableism. If you believe you’re being marginalized in the workplace because of your disabilities, seeking legal counsel can help you find out whether you have grounds upon which you can take legal action.