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Unseen Obstacles: The Intersection of Implicit Bias and Ableism

by | Apr 19, 2023 | Blog, Industry News

The intersection of implicit bias and ableism refers to how unconscious attitudes and beliefs about disability can lead to discriminatory behaviors for people with disabilities. Ableism is a type of discrimination in which people with disabilities are treated as inferior or less capable than those without disabilities. Implicit bias refers to people’s attitudes and stereotypes about specific groups, often based on race, gender, age, or disability.

Ableism is deeply rooted in societal norms, beliefs, and practices that value certain abilities and ways of being over others. We can work to create a more inclusive and equitable society for people with disabilities by understanding and challenging ableism. This article will explore the relationship between implicit bias and ableism and how society influences them.


What’s In The Article?

  • Understanding Implicit Bias
  • How Society Influences Our Implicit Bias
  • Impacts Of Society On Ableism
  • The Intersection Of Implicit Bias And Ableism
  • How Implicit Bias Contribute To Ableism
  • Final Thoughts


Understanding Implicit Bias

Bias can be positive or negative, conscious or unconscious, based on race, gender, age, and religion. It can be implicit or unintentional, which means we are unaware that our beliefs are biased. This type of bias is difficult to detect because it doesn’t always come with an explicit attitude toward someone or something.

The first step in understanding implicit bias is knowing how it differs from explicit bias. Explicit bias refers to your conscious attitudes toward a group of people, while implicit attitudes are unconscious. You may be unaware of them or unable to express them verbally. Many people have an unintentional negative association with people with disabilities, and these biases are frequently hidden. Because of their invisibility, they are difficult to identify and address. Still, it implies that they are all around us in various forms: our environment, interpersonal relationships, and how we treat ourselves daily.


How Society Influences Our Implicit Bias

Society is built with implicit biases. We learn them from our surroundings, which are reinforced by the media and culture. You may be unaware of your implicit biases, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t influencing how you perceive others and how others perceive themselves.

Implicit bias is a prejudice that operates beneath conscious awareness and without malice or intention. These stereotypes are formed over time due to interactions with family members, friends, and peers, as well as through social media platforms.

In several ways, our social environment and experiences can influence the development of implicit biases:

  • Cultural Messages: The messages we receive about certain groups of people from our culture and the media can shape our attitudes and beliefs about them. 
  • Socialization: We learn about the world and how to behave through socialization. Our family, friends, and social groups can shape our attitudes and beliefs about various groups of people, which can influence our implicit biases.
  • Stereotyping: Stereotyping is a cognitive shortcut that our brains use to quickly categorize people based on their group membership. Messages and experiences from society can reinforce stereotypes, leading to the development of implicit biases.
  • Structural Inequality: Structural inequality can reinforce implicit biases, such as discrimination and bias in systems and institutions. For instance, if a certain group of people is consistently subjected to workplace discrimination, we may develop implicit biases associating that group with lower status or less desirable traits.
  • Exposure: Our exposure to certain groups of people can also impact our implicit biases. For example, if we are not exposed to people from certain cultural or ethnic groups, we are more likely to develop implicit biases against them.


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Impacts Of Society On Ableism

Society plays a significant role in shaping and reinforcing ableism. Ableism is frequently rooted in societal norms and expectations that value certain abilities and ways of being over others, resulting in the marginalization and exclusion of people with disabilities. Here are some examples of how society influences ableism:

  • Stereotyping and Prejudice: People with disabilities are frequently portrayed in the media and popular culture as helpless, dependent, or pitiful, perpetuating negative stereotypes and attitudes. This contributes to the widespread belief that people with disabilities are less capable, valuable, or deserving of respect and inclusion in society.
  • Physical and Social Barriers: People with disabilities face physical and social barriers on a daily basis, such as inaccessible buildings, a lack of accommodations, and exclusion from social activities. This results in a society that is not inclusive and doesn’t encourage people with disabilities to participate fully.
  • Education and Employment: A person’s social and economic well-being depends on education and employment opportunities. However, due to discrimination and a lack of accommodations, people with disabilities face significant barriers to accessing quality education and employment opportunities.
  • Language and Communication: The language we use to talk about disability has the potential to reinforce ableism. For example, phrases like “wheelchair-bound” or “suffering from a disability” can perpetuate the notion that disability is something to be pitied or feared.
  • Stigma and Shame: People with disabilities are frequently stigmatized and made to feel ashamed of their physical characteristics or differences. This may result from self-doubt, low self-esteem, social exclusion, and isolation.


The Intersection Of Implicit Bias And Ableism

Implicit bias and ableism are often invisible to those who hold them. Consider the scenario where a candidate with a disability applies for a job but is rejected because the hiring manager has an implicit bias against candidates with disabilities. The manager might not even be conscious of their bias in that situation.

Because of this, we must discuss these topics openly whenever possible, both within our own communities and when talking about issues on disability rights with non-disabled people who might not be aware of their own biases. Additionally, many people are unaware of how pervasive these beliefs are because many have never been taught about implicit biases or how they function within social systems.

People with disabilities may encounter more obstacles and difficulties in their daily lives when these two forms of discrimination intersect. For instance, a person with a disability might be refused housing or employment opportunities due to presumptions that they cannot perform specific tasks or need burdensome special accommodations.

Implicit biases can also affect how healthcare professionals, educators, and law enforcement personnel view and interact with people with disabilities. These prejudices can result in unfair treatment, missed opportunities, and negative experiences for them.


How Implicit Bias Contribute To Ableism

Implicit bias can subtly affect our actions and judgments, resulting in exclusion and discrimination. This bias can contribute to ableism in the following ways:

  • Attribution Bias: Attribution bias is the tendency to attribute positive outcomes to internal factors, such as ability or effort, and negative consequences to external factors, such as luck or circumstance. This bias can lead us to assume that people with disabilities are less capable or responsible for their successes and failures.
  • Confirmation Bias: The propensity to seek out and interpret information in a way that supports our preexisting beliefs and attitudes is known as confirmation bias. This may cause us to discount or disregard data that contradicts our implicit prejudices toward those with disabilities.
  • Ingroup Bias: Ingroup bias is the tendency to favor people similar to us regarding group membership, such as race or gender. This prejudice may cause us to undervalue the skills and contributions of people with disabilities who are not a part of our ingroup.
  • Implicit Stereotype Activation: Implicit biases can lead us to automatically associate certain characteristics or abilities with people with disabilities, even if we consciously reject these stereotypes. Without our knowledge, this may result in discriminatory actions and judgments.

Implicit bias can contribute to ableism by reinforcing negative attitudes and stereotypes about people with disabilities, causing exclusion and discrimination in various contexts. 


Final Thoughts

To build a more inclusive and equitable society for everyone, it is critical to understand and address the intersection of implicit bias and ableism. This can be accomplished through policies and practices that support equal opportunities and accommodations for people with disabilities and education or training that raises public awareness of these problems.

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Marilyn Jordan
1 month ago

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