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Internalised Ableism: The Tyranny Within

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Although there are many debates in disability studies and the disability services fields, most people would agree with the proposition that disabled people1 experience various degrees of subordinated and diminished lives through economic, social, legal, religious and cultural discrimination. These problems were recently formally recognised by the United Nations in the form of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which bind member nations who become signatories. In the light of this recognition, it is important to pause and think about the nature of harm that disabled people experience and the very concept of harm. For instance, is it the impairment itself that causes the harm? If so, we should focus on reducing or indeed eliminating the impairment, which is a common perspective. Such a view interprets disability as harmful in and of itself. In contrast, there is a view among some disabled people that whilst impairments at times cause inconvenience, tiredness and even pain, the primary source of harm is external to the person, situated in the realm of belief.


  • Identity Formation
  • Disable People
  • Critical Race Theory
  • Disability Service
  • Disability Study

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Internalized oppression is not the cause of our mistreatment; it is the result of our mistreatment. It would not exist without the real external oppression that forms the social climate in which we exist. Once oppression has been internalized, little force is needed to keep us submissive. We harbour inside ourselves the pain and the memories, the fears and the confusions, the negative self-images and the low expectations, turning them into weapons with which to re-injure ourselves, every day of our lives.

(Marks, 1999, p. 25)

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© 2009 Fiona Kumari Campbell

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Campbell, F.K. (2009). Internalised Ableism: The Tyranny Within. In: Contours of Ableism. Palgrave Macmillan, London.

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