Ableism in the Education System

The Disabled Experience at CPM


All names have been changed for privacy.


Content warnings: References to suicide baiting, and usage of the “r-slur,” (Censored and used in a quote regarding experiences with bullying). 


Jasen Jaimes and Henry Shaw were contacted but were unable to be interviewed at this time.


Picture this; you’re a 14-year-old middle school student and you’re trying to get to your next class when all of a sudden somebody comes up to you. They start yelling at you, ending the rant with “Why don’t you go kill yourself, [r-slur]?” You stand there in shock, not knowing what to do. Who would? You just got suicide baited and got called a slur out of nowhere. All you can do is move on and hope something happens when you report it. For Jaiden and many other students at CPM, this isn’t something they have to imagine. This is their reality.


Ableism is defined as “…discrimination and social prejudice against people with disabilities and/or people who are perceived to be disabled.” and is quite literally in every part of modern-day society. Ableism not only affects those who are physically disabled, but also those who are neurodivergent or people with chronic pain. The definition of disabled under the ADA is “…a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities,” and anyone who fits under that umbrella is impacted. Being called slurs isn’t the only form of ableism – just one of the most extreme. Anybody familiar with the pyramid of hate knows there are far more things to it.


Being denied accommodations. Inaccessible architecture. Being told you “aren’t disabled enough” or “too smart to be disabled,” or being called slurs. Medical professionals refuse to take you seriously because “you don’t look sick, ” or being told, “you aren’t sick enough.” Being dehumanized, and having your disability be treated as a novelty. Have people ask your friends or caretakers questions about yourself when you’re right there next to them. Being treated as if you’re younger than you are. Having people constantly disrespect your boundaries, whether it be touching your mobility aid or “helping” you when no help is needed. All of those things are examples of everyday ableism that are too common.


Jaiden is a 14-year-old student at CPM. Jaiden has Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), and is most likely autistic. “I only feel safe telling a few friends about my disabilities because I do not know how others would react, or if I would be treated as less of a human because of it,” he stated. “I have been told that ‘you couldn’t possibly be autistic, I just don’t get that vibe from you’ or something along those lines multiple times. Being told that invalidates all the struggles that I have.” Jaiden often finds himself experiencing sensory overload, panic attacks, and has chronic pain. To have that all be invalidated by somebody you care about, simply because “you aren’t autistic enough” is an experience that’s hurtful beyond words.


Kay is a student at CPM too, with Tourette’s syndrome (Also referred to as TS, or Tourette’s) and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). “I’ve had ‘friends’ at CPM who purposefully trigger and make fun of my OCD, and bully me about my tics.” Tics are uncontrollable and repetitive muscle movements in any part of the body. You can’t ‘fight tics back’ and they’re going to happen regardless of your feelings about it. “I’ve been called the r slur and made fun of because of my tics frequently,” Kay added.


Another student at CPM also has experiences with ableism. “There have been times when ‘friends’ of mine have taken my mobility aid when I’m not using it, like when I have it down by my backpack and I’m a few feet away.” The student, Elijah, has severe joint pain and other undiagnosed health issues. They can’t stand for long periods of time without intense pain and their aid helps. “What they’re doing is not only disrespecting my boundaries since it has a clear ‘Do Not Touch’ sticker, but also can be compared to grabbing an inhaler out of someone’s hands when they’re having an asthma attack. It’s a tool I need, not a want. It’s never happened at school though, probably because I don’t let it have the chance to happen” Elijah has also experienced frequent infantilization from both friends, family, and classmates since making their disability status clear. “I have had my pain described to me as ‘yucky,’ before. I told my friend that some days I wake up in tears from the pain, and they called it ‘yucky,’ as if I’m five. I’m not. I’m a teenager.” Disabled people being treated like children, or younger than they actually are, is something that many people find themselves unconsciously doing and needs to stop. Disabled adults are adults, end of the sentence. Because how Elijah is afraid and tired of being infantilized and bullied, and their past experiences with people breaking their boundaries at school, they don’t bring their mobility aid to the school. Doing this with joint issues causes preventable and acute pain for Elijah.


When asked about slurs on campus, similar responses were given. “If you aren’t part of the community and are using it negatively, it’s upsetting. It’s honestly disappointing that the kid doesn’t know better, and they should know better at this point, yet still use a slur knowing it’s wrong and hurtful. I don’t understand it,” Jaiden says. Elijah’s response was a bit blunter. “I’m tired of it. They’re in middle school, and are old enough to understand the impact of their actions, or at the very least, how it’s hurtful.”


Both of these students have health conditions where they have to stay home because of pain on a semi-regular basis, and they’re not the only ones to be negatively impacted by the attendance expectations and policies at school. “I have migraines that can last up to a week. Having only 10 days of excused absence before a letter gets sent home isn’t exactly functional for me.” Elijah says. Because of the letter that was sent home and their parents’ concerns about programs such as Running Start not accepting them due to their attendance, Elijah can only stay home on days they have doctor’s appointments or emergencies. “It’s not my parents’ fault at all and I don’t blame them. The root of the problem is that there’s this mindset that students can only learn in person when the last two years have clearly proven that false.” Even when coming back from long absences, students are only told to ‘check Canvas’ for what they missed. If all of this information they need to learn is in this easily available website, what’s the importance of having to be in person? While online learning can’t replicate learning in a classroom, it’s still learning. Jaiden has the same thoughts about the attendance policy. “If I start feeling really overwhelmed and can’t learn successfully there’s no way for me to go home without just skipping class. The only way to get an excused absence is to lie and say I’m sick or that I have a doctor’s appointment. I have a bunch of unexcused absences on my record making me seem like a bad kid.” While there definitely is a difference between skipping school for the sake of it, and not going to school for medical reasons, “…the attendance expectations and policies currently in place lack the nuance needed,” says Elijah.


The key reason that ableism is so prevalent and has lasted this long in society is because of ignorance, and fear. According to statistics, only 3.1% of characters in T.V shows and movies are disabled and out of that 3.1%, 95% of the actors playing disabled roles are abled. Meanwhile, according to the WHO, over 1 billion people in the world are disabled. The sheer difference between those two numbers is astounding. Due to the lack of representation disabled people have in media, a lack of authentic disabled portrayals is created. Kids grow up absorbing media and grow up thinking that disabled people are either sob stories, inspirational (for just living), ableist narratives are true, or all 3. As these kids grow up, since there’s nothing being taught that says otherwise, they think that mindset is the truth and nothing is changed in the curriculum. And the cycle repeats. When faced with an actually disabled person who isn’t either of those two things and is human like everybody else, no one knows what to do. The thing that everybody is afraid of is the unknown, and when there’s somebody who doesn’t fit any of the molds that have been made for them by the world? Well, there’s nothing more like an unknown variable than that.


The way disabled people are treated needs to change, and the first place to start would be in the education system. Teaching kids about disabled people, and how they shouldn’t be treated as ‘lesser,’ helping disabled people by adapting the system that doesn’t work for them via accommodations and being stricter on those who are ableists are all things that can be done.


Change needs to happen, and it needs to happen soon. Ignorance kills – quite literally.



Linton, Simi; Bérubé, Michael (1998). Claiming Disability: Knowledge and Identity. New York University Press. p. 9. ISBN 9780814751343.’s%20disabled%20roles%20%2D%20City&text=Ninety%2Dfive%20percent%20of%20characters,released%20by%20Ruderman%20White%20Paper