How Ableism Affects Seniors With Invisible Disabilities
Updated: Mar 28
What’s your first thought when you see an elderly person in a wheelchair? Do you see that person as less-than, someone in need of being fixed? Do you assume they require special treatment, as though a physical disability affects intelligence as well? How does your thinking shift to see someone standing upright, without the need for a wheelchair; would you think they were better-abled than the wheelchair-bound older adult?
These are difficult questions that require honest answers if we’re to understand and respond accordingly to hidden disabilities and ableism.
What Is Ableism?
Ableism is identified as “the discrimination of and social prejudice against people with disabilities based on the belief that typical abilities are superior.” Ableism affects seniors in a number of ways and contributes to harmful stereotypes and misconceptions.
The Two Sides of the Disability Coin
Individuals with visible disabilities encounter ableism in lots of ways: exclusion from places that are inaccessible, being spoken down to or asked invasive questions, being forced to wait to use an accessible restroom stall while in use by an individual who could be using a standard stall, etc. Conversely, there are many disabilities which are not as easily noticeable (for example, Alzheimer's disease, hearing impairment, or a heart condition), accounting for up to 80% of the disabled population. These individuals may have their concerns minimized and need to fight harder to receive any accommodations needed.
Whether or not a disability is apparent or hidden, there are steps we can all take to promote equality and inclusion:
Treat everyone in the manner in which you would want to be treated. Say hello. Look them in the eye. Engage them in a conversation if they welcome the social interaction.
Avoid trying to think for the individual or impose your help. Offer assistance in an open-ended manner if it seems warranted, giving them the opportunity to let you know if they would like your help or not.
Never speak over or around the person, addressing a caregiver first. Speak directly to the older adult, and if help with conversing is needed, the caregiver can then step in. Bear in mind that the person is an adult, and should always be spoken to as such.
Running errands such as grocery shopping and picking up prescriptions
Help with walking and transfers
Companionship to brighten each day through conversations, games, activities, arts and crafts, exercise, and more
Transportation and accompaniment
Specialized care for chronic health needs, such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease
Discreet personal care support, for safe baths/showers, restroom use, getting dressed, etc.
Planning and preparing healthy and balanced meals and providing assistance with eating when needed
And so much more
Reach out to us at (416) 422-2273 for more information and to request a free in-home consultation.