39 Ableist Microaggressions You Might Encounter At An IEP Meeting | Think Before You Speak

Microaggressions have been getting a lot more attention recently, and with good cause. It’s very easy to spot someone who is openly hateful, racist or ableist. I mean, I think we can all agree that if you call someone the R word, that’s ableist.

But ableism takes many different forms and shapes. And, I’m of the opinion that we should be much more worried about the microaggressions from people who have power to make decisions (lawmakers, education administrators, etc.) than the person who might be openly ableist but has no power. Yes, it all matters.

Sometimes I find that parents are some of the worst offenders when it comes to ableism. I get it, mind you, been there myself. It’s because society tells us how to feel about raising a disabled child. We absorb societal ableist messages before our kids are even born.

Think Before You Speak

And, for some of us, and yes that includes me, we don’t see our ableism until we’re living this life. Still, it’s weird to me what some people will dig their heels in about. Often when I call out ableism, there’s no shortage of moms who will come and “save” the mom who I asked to change her language. I’m working harder at the “Think Before You Speak” mantra and not just blurting out the first thing that comes to my mind.

For what it’s worth, for most of my reading and learning on this subject, I read first-person disability blogs. When disabled people speak and say “this is how that makes me feel,” I think we should listen to them.

What Is Ableism?

Ableism is to disabilities what racism is to people of color. Ableism is, in short, the expression of a discriminatory preference for someone without a disability. It might be outright and blatant, such as calling a person with Down Syndrome the r-word. Usually, it’s much more subtle. Ableism assigns inferior worth to people who have developmental, emotional, physical, or psychiatric disabilities by devaluing their worth. This can limit their potential, particularly for the gatekeepers to access supports and services.

Ableism includes things like minimizing the need for mobility devices, accessible parking cards, assistive technology, sign language interpreters (can’t she just read lips?), the need to take medication, frequent appointments, or any other challenges that students with disabilities have to deal with that people without disabilities don’t experience.

In working on a list of racist microaggressions that IEP parents encounter, I thought that it wouldn’t hurt to compile a list of ableist ones too.

Ableist Microaggressions At IEP Meetings

You may witness these as a parent, student or school personnel. I’m providing this in hopes that school personnel examine their own personal biases.

  1. Not inviting students to the IEP meeting because of a perceived lack of ability to participate at any level (all kids can offer something, even just to say hi or send in a note or video!).

  2. Not being prepared for a disabled person’s attendance at the meeting if the team knew they were coming (not having a chair removed for wheelchair space, ASL interpreter, etc.)

  3. Talking about the person while in their presence, as if they weren’t there.

  4. Speaking to the parent rather than the student

  5. Telling the student/parents how “inspiring” or “brave” they are (instead, work on eliminating an ableist system that requires bravery to attend public schools)

  6. Dismissing bullying

  7. Not allowing processing time for speaking, for students with slower or delayed processing.

  8. Not allowing speaking time for students who stutter or otherwise talk slower than average.

  9. Speaking extra loud or extra slow to someone who doesn’t need it

  10. Baby talk or condescending hig