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Internalised Ableism

By Daša Novysedláková

This piece is part of the We Are LUNA zine. The full zine can be viewed here: or listened to here:

Ableism is a belief system which equates able-bodiedness to normalcy, and deems disability as innately negative, undesirable, and requiring amelioration (Campbell, 2009). As able-bodiedness is presumed in social and institutional practices and beliefs, this aids the construction of disability itself (Chouinard, 1997). Persons with disabilities disclose that while their disability presents certain discomfort, the majority of the impairment is external, induced through imposed beliefs (Campbell, 2009). According to Campbell (2009), the absence of collective identity among disabled people, constant exposure to microaggressions on institutional, policy and social level, as well as the pressure to emulate the norm in disability renunciation and attempts to reach able-bodiedness due to the fundamentally flawed capitalism-inspired productivity-centred framework of standards used to judge the worth of individuals, lead to the internalisation of ableism.

Even though the internalisation of ableism can be unconscious, it has tangible inter- and intra-personal implications for the individual. Internalised ableism also skews the narrative of the role of disability in our lives, and the expectations we set for ourselves (Jóhannsdóttir et al., 2022). The social narrative of disability often centres around the need to overcome it (Campbell, 2009). Subsequently, strategies available to assist with working with systems incompatible with a particular disability are used as tools to emulate that the disability no longer exists. If this goal is achieved, the disabled individuals are frequently objectified to become the source of inspiration porn – portrayal of disability as a source of inspiration to able-bodied individuals (Grue, 2016)

Alternatively, a state of passing is reached, which is energetically taxing and leads to dissonance between personal and public aspects of the disability (Ahmed, 2017 as cited in Jóhannsdóttir et al., 2022; Campbell, 2009). However, if the disability remains to be noticeable, it is often deemed as unacceptable and undesirable, which triggers feelings of shame, which facilitate the internalisation of ableism (Jóhannsdóttir et al., 2022). Internalised ableism leads to self-blame, and negative feelings of the individuals towards themselves and others of similar disposition rather than to recognition of the oppressive impacts of ableist constructs (Rosenwasser, 2000). Internalised ableism has been linked to anxiety, depression, isolation, disempowerment, higher severity of psychiatric symptoms and lower quality of life to name a few (Jóhannsdóttir et al., 2022). While there is a push for more inclusive environments, this cannot be achieved if disabled individuals carry internalised stigma towards themselves and others with disabilities. Encouragement to revisit the judgements, expectations, but also the tools available to alleviate some of the features of the particular disability is necessary.


Campbell, F.K. (2009). Internalised Ableism: The Tyranny Within. In: Contours of Ableism. Palgrave Macmillan, London.

Chouinard, V. (1997). Making space for disabling difference: Challenges ableist

geographies. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space. 15, 379–387.

Grue, J. (2016). The problem with inspiration porn: A tentative definition and a provisional critique. Disability & Society, 31(6), 838-849.

Jóhannsdóttir, Á., Egilson, S. Þ., & Haraldsdóttir, F. (2022). Implications of internalised ableism for the health and wellbeing of disabled young people. Sociology of Health & Illness, 44(2), 360-376.

Rosenwasser, P. (2000). ‘Tool for Transformation: Cooperative Inquiry as a Process for Healing from Internalized Oppression’, Adult Education Research Conference. Available at: papers/77

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