Five Types of Ableist Comments and How to Respond to Them

By Janet Jay

Ableism is a type of prejudice against people with disabilities, often with the attitude that “normal” minds and bodies are best. These rude, demeaning remarks equate disabilities with inherent flaws or weaknesses. Here are five examples of ableist comments.


Inspiration porn: “You’re so inspiring!”

What is it? Stories about people with disabilities who “overcome” their condition or limitations in a stirring or “heartwarming” way.

Why it’s ableist: These condescending stories reduce people with disabilities to two-dimensional stereotypes of their conditions. They perpetuate the idea that disabilities are only worth validation only if they can be “fixed,” and that the people with disabilities need to try harder to overcome their problems—ignoring that many chronic conditions cannot be cured or changed.


Nosy questions: “What’s wrong with you?”

What is it? Some people feel free to ask extremely personal questions of people with disabilities—sometimes in public settings.

Why it’s ableist: People with disabilities have the same right to privacy as anyone else. Asking medical questions pressures someone to share private and sensitive information. People with disabilities do not owe anyone an explanation, even if it’s a child inquiring.


Unsolicited advice: “Have you tried essential oils?”

What is it? Giving unsolicited opinions or advice about diagnosis or treatment.

Why it’s ableist: It undermines the excruciating amount of time, energy, and resources people have already devoted to their health, much of which others might not realize or notice.


Minimizing: “It’s not that bad.”

What is it? Minimizing can sometimes take the form of “toxic positivity,” or the denial of negative feelings as a reasonable response to difficult circumstances.

Why it’s ableist: When someone is uncomfortable around people with disabilities, they may downplay the challenges they face.


Ableist language: “You don’t seem disabled!”

What is it? Language with the message that a disability makes a person flawed or “less than”—that disability is bad, negative, or something that needs to be fixed.

Why it’s ableist: While they think they are paying a compliment, comments like these reflect how negatively some view disability.

How do I respond to ableism?

If it’s something you can comfortably address and you have the energy to do so, especially if you think someone is causing harm unthinkingly, call it out and explain. Sharing that a specific phrase or term has hurt your feelings, for most people, should ideally be enough to get them to stop and reconsider. For rude questions, “that’s personal and I don’t want to get into it” should work. Above all, it’s your choice whether or not to engage.