Ableist privilege is just as important and much the same as white privilege or male privilege, although frequently forgotten. We need to be more mindful of ableist privilege in technology and be willing to consider alternative solutions that provide a more accessible, inclusive and simple experience for everyone.
Definition of ableism: Discrimination in favour of able-bodied people.
Ableism, much like racism, ageism and sexism acts to exclude and arguably bullies an entire demographic.
Here’s a few examples:
According to the World Health Organisation, 15% of the world’s population has some sort of disability.1
Focusing on ableism in technology, it’s so important that throughout the design and development process of any solution we create, every person is involved in ensuring that accessibility and inclusivity is being considered. It should never be an afterthought and should certainly never be entirely forgotten. We all need to take accountability and make sure our ableist bias isn’t showing!
It helps to consider how many people are being excluded and left behind with every MVP (minimum viable product - a version of the product with just enough features to be usable by customers) produced.
One of the simplest ways of being able to identify ableist privilege and recognise the need for change is having the ability to put oneself into the shoes of a user who is being excluded from using our websites and apps because they aren’t as able-bodied. Being empathetic towards all demographics allows us to see the pitfalls and gaps in the interfaces we create.
I think it’s worth defining here that there are 3 primary times of disability:
Permanent - Examples could include someone that is non-verbal, deaf, blind or an amputee
Temporary - This could range from a broken arm to a cataract affecting someone’s vision
Situational - Things like a new mum juggling baby and life, a distracted driver, language barriers or bartenders working in a noisy environment
Bearing these categories in mind when creating potential personas for a project will help to ensure that users experiencing disabilities, whether situational, temporary or permanent, are not being excluded from consideration.
There is the age-old question of whether or not a client is going to be willing to invest the time and money into ensuring that their solution isn’t falling into the trap of being ableist…
However, rather than trying to retrofit accessibility standards into your solutions as a separate consideration, make the change at the beginning of the process and include them as part of your project standards. Being inclusive isn’t a separate item on the Statement of Work, it’s simply changing your mentality in how you create your interfaces/solutions.
You can then be proud that users aren’t being unnecessarily excluded; your solution is accessible for more people and you’re not falling into the trap of your own ableist privilege (it’s also a hell of a lot cheaper than fixing a bad reputation!).
So, to summarise;
Step one: recognise your ableist privilege
Step two: be empathetic towards those that aren’t so lucky
Step three: create solutions with that in mind from the start
Now, there’s no one-size-fits-all checklist, but if you are interested in reading more about this, here’s a couple to get you started: