Inclusive Language Series: Ableism & Universal Design

This piece primarily uses person-first language and want to acknowledge that individuals within the community use identity-first language or other terms. Examples of person-first and identity-first language are listed below.

  • Person-first language: “People with disabilities”
  • Identity-first language: “Disabled person”

Ableism (n.)

Refers to a pervasive system of discrimination and exclusion that oppresses disabled people who have mental, emotional or physical disabilities; is consists of prejudiced, discriminatory, and violent thoughts and actions towards people with disabilities.

People can have disabilities that are apparent and non-apparent. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Perceptual (ex. visual, hearing impairments, learning disabilities)
  • Illness/Health Conditions (ex. Multiple Sclerosis, Fibromyalgia)
  • Physical & Mobility (ex. Cerebal Palsy, neuropathy)
  • Developmental (ex. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Autism Spectrum)
  • Psychiatric (ex. Chronic Depression, Anxiety, Bipolar Disorder)
  • Environmental (ex. Sensitivities to allergens and chemicals, light sensitivity, asthma)

The impact ableism has on people with disabilities is vast and includes microaggressions, bias, and systemic oppression.

Microaggression example: Seeing someone in a wheelchair and talking to them about how they are an inspiration to others for completing everyday routine tasks.

Bias example: A student with non-apparent disabilities asks for accommodations for a class but an instructor responds, “Well you don’t look like you have a disability…”

Systemic oppression example: Physical spaces that are not accessible to people who use mobility devices. Such as not having ramps or elevators, narrow hallways, and doors that are difficult to open. Especially when these facility issues exist in new or remodeled buildings.

When thinking about ableism, it’s important to avoid viewing individuals with disabilities from a deficit-based perspective.  People with disabilities are not deficient in comparison to non-disabled people. In most cases, any perceived deficiency is a result of being in an environment that is created with only the needs of able-bodied people in mind. This brings us to the concept of Universal Design.

Universal Design (n.)

The process of making your program, experience, environment, or product, intuitive, accessible to, and usable by as many people as reasonably possible without the need for special adaptation or specialized design.

Universal Design is a process by which we put forth intentional effort to ensure spaces are accessible and support the success of all people. There may be some spaces or tasks that can not be fully accessible to people of all abilities and that’s okay. The point is for us to eliminate situations in which unnecessary barriers are being created or maintained that disadvantage people with disabilities.

To learn more about experiences at UW-Madison, read this article in the Badger Herald.

Disability Cultural Center (DCC)

The Disability Cultural Center (DCC) is a space to uplift, affirm, and celebrate disability identity and culture on campus. Disability culture is the shared experiences, history, and traditions of disabled people; disability culture happens when disabled people are creating, being, doing from a place of disability and is present in visual art, film, music, spots, activism, community, and more. Holding all this, the DCC intends to increase disabled belonging and appreciation of disability culture at UW-Madison. The DCC is open to all students, regardless of disability identity, disclosure, or affiliation with the McBurney Disability Resource Center. All students are welcome to explore their relationship to disability and develop their appreciation for disability culture. The DCC encompasses a physical space, social media presence, programming, and community. The DCC is in community with other cultural centers and units across campus. Join the “Disability Cultural Center List” by emailing or subscribing on Google Groups. Follow the DCC on Instagram at @uw_disability.

McBurney Disability Resource Center

McBurney is a great resource for students in need of accommodations. Some of the accommodations available include alternative formats (audio, enlarged text, and Braille), sign language and captioning, note-taking, accessible transportation, housing accommodations, and more. There is a wide range of services offered to meet the diverse needs of students with disabilities. There are also resources to help instructors and other campus entities with components of universal design to maximize accessibility and reduce the need for students to submit accommodation requests.

UHS Mental Health Services

Another great resource on campus is UHS Mental Health Services. Students are able to engage in individual and/or group therapy as well as receive support for eating disorders and alcohol and substance use issues.

University Housing

We work with students with disabilities for different accommodations on a regular basis. If you’d like to connect with someone, please fill out our contact form.

Upcoming Holidays & Observances

  • Women’s History Month
  • National Irish American Heritage Month
  • National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month
  • March 11–April 9, 2024, Ramadan (Islamic) — Observed by Muslims worldwide as a month of fasting to commemorate the first revelation of the Qur’an to the Prophet Muhammad
  • March 14, 2024, Equal Pay Day — a symbolic day that marks how far into the year women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year. It is observed annually in the United States
  • March 15, 2024, International Day to Combat Islamophobia (Muslim) — is observed to bring awareness to the growing global problem of Islamophobia. Islamophobia is a form of religious bigotry and discrimination that targets Muslims and their beliefs
  • March 17, 2024, St. Patrick’s Day (Christian) — Feast day of the patron saint of Ireland. In the U.S., a secular version is celebrated by people of all faiths through appreciation of all things Irish.
  • March 17, 2024, Cheesefare Sunday or Forgiveness Sunday (Orthodox Christian) — the last Sunday prior to the commencement of Great Lent for Orthodox Christians.
  • March 18, 2024, Clean Monday (Eastern Orthodox Christian) — The beginning of Great Lent for Eastern Orthodox Christian churches, which starts 40 days before Pascha, counting Sundays.
  • March 18–24, 2024, Neurodiversity Celebration Week — recognizes and celebrates neurological differences.