The Third Forgotten “Ism”: Disablism

Have you ever tried to look through the lens of those who are outwardly different? How about giving some reflection on what it might be like not to have the same abilities as a non-disabled person? Think about it for a moment. Oh, I know. You would prefer not to imagine this, but please go ahead and just try. If you are willing to continue, envision what it might be like for a person who was born without specific abilities? How are they treated? How about those who lose those abilities and become quite debilitated sometimes in body and then in mind? If you ask those who experienced loss later in life, they might share a couple of things: 1) You would not be surprised that they would acknowledge the devastation of becoming incapacitated. 2) The issue that you may not have thought about is loneliness, which can and often does ensue.

The dirty but sad secret is that many people do not wish to be around a disabled person.

Those good friends usually begin to disappear. Perhaps, these people would prefer to see life as a beautifully wrapped package with a bow topping it off. To see something less perfect is often untenable to many. Being around disabled people, which includes the debilitated, makes them uncomfortable. Consequently, avoidance, for many, is a rule of thumb. Welcome to the world of a forgotten population, the disabled.

How many of you know a disabled person? More appropriately, who is acquainted with one more than on a casual level? Well, I am and more than a couple of individuals. Several people know my background, but I am not here to discuss it except to say that I have had disabled people in my inner sphere most of my life.

The following people have been part of my circle either personally or professionally:

A woman whose appearance was similar to one with Down syndrome but in actuality has a high IQ. A middle-aged man who was a small-business owner, only to discover he had a chronic disease confining him to a wheelchair and walker. A thirty-one-year-old woman who is suffering from a genetic condition is in excruciating pain, and frequently bedridden. A seventeen-year-old athlete who attracted sponsors was injured and became a quadriplegic—finally, lovely, upbeat people who are plagued by autoimmune diseases out of the blue. I heard a story as recently as last week.

Several years ago, I had a friend who made it clear that she would never travel with my disabled family member. I was taken aback and did not know how to respond to this chilling declaration. At that time, I should have severed our connection, but for many reasons, I did not. In the next few years, her intolerance extended to other areas, which forced my hand to do what was finally necessary.

People are continually stating, we need to embrace differences, but as I wrote in two other articles (see below), certain ones do not seem significant. If we are talking intolerance and bias, we need to include those who often seem excluded—eradicating the disabled reverts back to ancient civilizations such as Sparta. During modernity, many so-called luminaries advocated eugenics. Many of us knew about the erstwhile hero, Margaret Sanger, long ago. Not until recently was she finally exposed for her eugenics philosophy toward blacks and the disabled. Hitler attempted the genocide of the Jewish population, but he began his view of eugenics with the disabled. Hitler’s authorization gave permission for the murder of 8000 disabled children by poisonous injections.

Sadly, some of my clients have shared with me stories of people who leave their spouses when a disabled child is born. Others have departed if their spouse becomes disabled. Now, some might argue that we have only one life and why be a martyr? I would vigorously debate that position because of the fickleness of life, but more about that in a few moments.

What about those who become debilitated from such horrific afflictions such as a stroke or slowly withering from a fatal disease?

Many people distance themselves from these-once-upon-a-time healthy people. About five years ago, I wanted to visit a dying colleague. My mother had died a few months earlier, and some of my protective friends/colleagues warned me about her appearance. I insisted on visiting. When I arrived, this colleague was almost unrecognizable and nonverbal but seemed to acknowledge me by the lifting of her eyebrows. As classical music played in the background, I began speaking. About what? I do not recall, but I was glad I made the trek, which so many other colleagues avoided. I did the same when a lovely friend of a relative suffered a massive stroke. The relative was surprised when I expressed that I wanted to see this friend. I responded that I could not imagine doing otherwise. I went to visit and could see her despondence around losing so much. Witnessing this severe debilitation haunted me for days.

As I share all of this, I am not saying look at me, but reminding those like me to think about the quote from the Book of Luke, ”to whom much is given, much is required.” For those of us blessed with good health, longevity, and zest, we must do more than talk the talk. I have read so much about having conversations, and I silently agreed with someone who said ”words, words, words.” What about action? How about taking time not to avoid but push through discomfort in spending time with the afflicted? Remember, life can be most unpredictable. At any time, the forgotten ones could include you and me, and that is something that should never be forgotten.

I invite you to share your thoughts about this most but overlooked ”ism.”
More in this Series:


Darlene Corbett
Darlene Corbett
Darlene Corbett views herself as a life-long learner, a pursuer of excellence, a work-in-progress, and a seeker-of-the-truth. For over thirty years, she has been assisting people to get unstuck. Darlene's primary professional role has been as a Therapist, but now she includes Author and Writer. In 2011, Darlene began putting her thoughts on paper and hasn’t stopped. Many of her blogs can also be found on Sixty and Me, Medium, and Penning these articles set the stage for her first book, Stop Depriving The World of You, traditionally published by Sound Wisdom. Throughout her career, Darlene has been described as animated or effervescent which contradicts the perception of a psychotherapist. She firmly believes in the importance of being authentic and discusses platinum-style authenticity in her book. As a believer in pushing oneself as long as one has life, Darlene’s first novel, Visible Forever, will be published in the spring of 2024 by WordCrafts Press.

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  1. Hi Darlene,
    What a beautiful compassionate share.
    Also one of the so many ugly truths of our world, and you served it in a silver plate, so courage’s.
    15 years ago it also was not my world and to be very truthful, sometimes I really didn’t know how to respond. That’s a spot on problem you mentioned, people don’t know how to respond. But stay kind!
    And yes, they are intelligent, but most of all what I have seen, they are so pure of heart. And with “they” I mean the disability world. When my mom got paralyzed and I it became my world I learnt so much.
    This story really resonates with me as I recognized so much of your story.
    From my point of view we can learn so much of people with a disability, how to respond to life etc.
    How they give importance to life in things that truly matter.
    Most important what I learned is to treat them as normal, don’t treat them as pathetic.
    Dignity, Self-worth and Self-respect, these to things I halve always put at first in my mothers life.

    Thank you for this beautiful piece Darlene, sharing your respected wisdom and knowledge.

    • Thank you dear Ineke! Your genuine comments are so powerful. I am sorry about your mother. It shows that anything can happen to us at any time. You are right on. Never treat them any less, because those who do are the ones who may be more disabled. Dignity, self-worth, and self-respect are noble aspirations and should be attempted as much as possible. What a lovely daughter you are!

  2. Awww goodness you’re a criminal my dearest Darlene! You made cry so loudly with such a truthful piece discussing only ONE of the numerous sick souls manifestations… I forgive you, though, because of your pure heart I love so much! 🤗💎🤗

    I guess you know who are the heroes of all the horrible examples you have been sharing with us. Those Cluster B individuals are the real CANCER of the world…

    👉 “At that time, I should have severed our connection, but for many reasons, I did not. In the next few years, her intolerance extended to other areas, which forced my hand to do what was finally necessary.”

    I’m glad you started seeing her true colors, and the darkness of her soul even after a few years!

    👉 “Sadly, some of my clients have shared with me stories of people who leave their spouses when a disabled child is born.”

    I hope you know the root cause of such despicable behavior! They’re simply NARCISSISTS.

    I once shared the following red flag; which is linked to the topic:

    If your family doesn’t get excited and cheer you up whenever you are accomplishing anything, and unless your caregivers are suffering from some chronic anxiety or depression making them almost disconnected from the physical world, chances are high you were raised in a narcissistic family system.

    How come? Kids are merely an extension, trophies, objects, and a narcissistic supply for their narcissistic parents. They aren’t cheered up simply because of the grandiosity & entitlement patterns. They– as an extension– must be granted all the favors! It doesn’t make sense to be encouraged for what you ‘deserve’. The parents would talk about their kids’ achievements with pride to others though; only because it is making them look good…

    👉 But, because there is ALWAYS hope and kind-hearted people like yourself, let me share with you a story close to my heart:

    One of my very favorite movies of all times is “The Greatest Showman”. I was in my friends’ place in Sweden when I listened to a rehearsal of the song “This is me”. I’m still wondering how the neighbors didn’t call the police because of all the noise I unintentionally made! 😁🙃🙈

    I sang, danced, shouted out of frustration, cried with such a pure joy and satisfaction when witnesssing the worrior spirit despite the broken heart! I simply had a blast, and hope the video below will have the same impact on you! 🤩

    • Thank you my dear Myriam! I can feel your empathy shine through which you do not see in narcissists. Even in my profession, they reign. You are most thoughtful and soulful in your response. I am most appreciative.

  3. Darlene — Powerful message. It reminded me of a documentary we watched a couple of weeks back: Father. Solder. Son. It’s an incredible story, filmed over 10 years about one family, the patriarch of which is wounded in combat and loses one of his legs. His life change dramatically, and he struggles constantly to let anyone “in.”

    I have a very soft spot for any serving in the military, anyone who was wounded. I never had to serve so I’m grateful to those that do. I used to donate to “Wounded Warriors,” but their organization was rocked by scandal. I’m an avid fisherman, so I support “Project Healing Waters,” a group that helps disable soldiers engage with others in the peaceful pastime of fly fishing.

    As you said above, I don’t mention these to say “look at me,” but rather to say there are always different ways to support and say thanks, or I care.

    Saying thanks to you for writing this piece to remind us.

    • Thank you, dear Jeff, for your thoughtful response. You are amazing! How very kind you are! We too have a soft spot for our military but stopped giving to Wounded Warriors for the same reason you did. My husband used to enjoy fishing. I will tell him about this organization. I must say that it is no wonder you are in the people business. I bet your clients adore you! Thank you again.💖