Benevolent Ableism: How “Doing Good” Can Actually Be Bad for Children with Disabilities and Their Families

By M.A. Lynch.

Published by The International Journal of Civic, Political, and Community Studies

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

School personnel charged with teaching students with exceptional needs at times reduce their expectations in seemingly benevolent ways. The author introduces a term, “benevolent ableism”, adapted from “benevolent racism” that assumes that so called “caring” behavior actually leads to repression, dependence, and reduced expectation about one’s true potential based on race, along with “ablesim” which leads to “devaluation of disability” resulting in unfair assessment of one’s potential based on disability. Hehir (2002) defines “ableism” as the “devaluation of disability” that “results in societal attitudes that uncritically assert that it is better for a child to walk than roll, speak than sign, read print than read Braille, spell independently than use a spell-check, and hang out with nondisabled kids as opposed to other disabled kids”. The author offers teacher comments such as “this is my low (academic) group, but they try so hard” or “they may not know much, but they will know how to respect others from this class” as indicative of “benevolent ablesim”. This construct inadvertently creates tension for those who love or work with students with disabilities, because it fosters diminished expectation and denies the varied humanity inherent in us all.

Keywords: Benevolent Ableism, Difference

The International Journal of Civic, Political, and Community Studies, Volume 10, Issue 1, 2012, pp.55-62. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 432.430KB).

Dr. M.A. Lynch

Associate Professor, Special Education, Rhode Island College, Providence, RI, USA

Marie A. Lynch, Ph.D. grew up with deaf parents, which prompted her to often act as interpreter, advocate, and conduit between deaf and hearing worlds. Her personal journey of growing up culturally deaf, coupled with her professional experiences as a special educator, administrator, and program evaluator, shape/guide her thinking as an Associate Professor of Special Education at Rhode Island College. She is personally/professionally committed to understanding diverse learners, welcoming varied expression of ideas and bettering the educational experiences/outcomes of children/adolescents in school. Marie is a strong advocate, sincere collaborator, and active problem solver. Her research interests center on the identification/evaluation of learning-based and other disabilities, effective practices to include students with disabilities in classrooms, and understanding how children/adolescents broker language for their non-English speaking parents.