Some Thoughts on Online Ableism

Grace Lapointe
3 min readOct 6, 2023

CN: ableism, racism, eugenics, mentions physical abuse of humans and non-human animals

I recently deactivated my Twitter and listed a few reasons why over on my other blog. I also noticed an increase in ableism on Twitter before I left, including in supposedly leftist and COVID-cautious online spaces. I write about ableism and the uncanny a lot (compiled here) and always say that comparing disabled people to “Stepford Wives,” “zombies,” or “monsters” is ableist. People can and do describe their own experiences and feelings however they want, but when applied to other people, these comparisons are always Othering and dehumanizing. When it comes from fellow disabled people, it’s an example of lateral ableism. Unlearning internalized and lateral ableism is a lifelong process, like with any societal bias.

I have an interview coming out soon in which I say we can’t fight ableism with more ableism. This is true even when ableism is applied to powerful politicians who make ableist policies. Dismantling ableism is integral to every social issue, not a “distraction” from them. For example, a lot of liberal journalists and online commentators insult Donald Trump’s intelligence or say he’s mentally ill. But just days ago, Trump made comments about migrants in an interview that evoked Nazi rhetoric:

“Nobody has any idea where these people are coming from, and we know they come from prisons. We know they come from mental institutions and insane asylums. We know they’re terrorists. Nobody has ever seen anything like we’re witnessing right now. It is a very sad thing for our country. It’s poisoning the blood of our country. It’s so bad, and people coming in with disease. People are coming in with every possible thing that you could have.”

This is inciting hatred and using classism, ableism, and racism to evoke fear and justify violence. Most people will probably recognize the similarities to “blood and soil” Nazi rhetoric, but the ableism is also similar. Eugenics deemed many disabled people (who were often institutionalized) “unfit” to live or to have children. Some people justify ableism against Trump by saying he’s hypocritical, but don’t we already know that? What does that prove?

I recently threw out an old book that had always horrified me as a child. Unlike Explorabook, which was published when I was a child in the 1990s, this book was an old, weeded library book by time I found an old copy. The much older book was The Mind by John Rowan Wilson, Life Science Library, 1964.

The book The Mind contains a lot of ableist, white supremacist pseudoscience, like the concept of intelligence quotient (IQ). It shows the Stanford-Binet IQ scores on a bell curve, which I compared in 2019 to graphs of the uncanny valley. In both kinds of pseudoscientific graphs, “average” or “majority” is conflated with “normal.” The book contains the absurd anecdote that children’s IQ scores were decreasing because the researchers hadn’t updated the pictures of common household objects in decades. So, three-year-olds in 1950 got labelled “low IQ” for not somehow recognizing a phone from 1910. One chapter (twenty years after WWII!) spotlighted a white boy with blond hair and blue eyes for his “unusually high IQ” and for having his own microscope. It did not take into account the inherent white supremacist bias here or the privilege of a child owning his own microscope.

It also contained paintings by Hieronymus Bosch, photos of animal abuse, early forms of brain surgery on humans, and and lots of ableist and culturally imperialist (racist) assumptions, such as all kids around the world reading by age 7. That wasn’t true then or now. And lots of Freud, of course! Most of the information in the book has been debunked now. Although this book horrified me in middle school, I was probably starting to realize it was disability history, albeit presented in a biased, triggering way.

I’m glad I threw it out, but ableist concepts like judging people for their IQ and test scores persist now. These ideas are merely packaged differently today.

Imani Barbarin recently posted a great reel on IG about lateral ableism and how it intersects with racism and other axes of oppression.