There is a growing awareness of the different types of discrimination that certain groups and minorities face on a daily basis. For example, racism and machismo are examples of ways of thinking that result in unequal treatment of certain people for who they are.

But there are other concepts that refer to the ways in which discrimination is currently practised. For example, that of capacitism, referring to the unequal treatment received by people with functional diversity , often stigmatized and treated with prejudice because they are considered disabled.

What is capacitism?

Capacitism is that form of ideological and material discrimination that is directed against people who are considered disabled. In other words, capacitism refers to the prejudices and stereotypes that lead to the disdain of people with functional diversity, but is also expressed in laws and material structures (architectural, urbanistic, etc.) that represent a barrier for this group.

In other words, capacitism is both ideological and institutional , because it is expressed through thoughts but also through designs and forms of organization that are fixed and legitimized.

The functional diversity paradigm

The idea of capacitance is born from a new perspective that addresses the way in which people considered to be disabled are socially and politically accommodated. This new paradigm is based on the concept of functional diversity, which is used as a substitute for “disability”.

And what is functional diversity? It is an idea used to avoid the stigmatization of disabled people . These, instead of being seen as “broken”, incomplete or, in short, “mistaken bodies”, are considered to be representatives of another kind of functionality, neither better nor worse than that which had been considered as “normal” (which, from the perspective of functional diversity, is no longer considered as such).

Thus, capacitism points to the fundamental problem of the widespread assumption that people with functional diversity are a deviation from normality and that, at the same time, they do not have the same rights as other human beings.

Capacitism and the halo effect

One of the psychological phenomena that explain how capacitism works is the halo effect.

The halo effect is a tendency to value people starting from one of their characteristics and extending to the whole person the value judgment that has been made on that initial feature.

That is why, for example, a person who attaches great importance to the stereotypes linked to politics can come to value a behaviour in a person dressed in a certain way (for example, with dreadlocks) in a negative way and, on the other hand, value that same behaviour in another individual dressed in a different way.

The halo effect hijacks our ability to reasonably and comprehensively assess the different nuances and characteristics of a person , and causes us to simply extend to the whole our opinion about a particular characteristic that has caught our attention. Furthermore, there are indications that the halo effect could be present in most human beings.

Thus, people with functional diversity are labeled by their biological characteristics and their viewpoint is minimized or considered an emanation of their status as disabled individuals. Capacitance is shaped in part by typecasting: whatever is done, it will be interpreted as a direct consequence of being disabled, which makes the humanity of these people less visible. And this, of course, has a very negative effect on the self-esteem of many.

How to create a more inclusive society

In order to curb capacitism, mental health professionals from all fields (including clinical psychology) emphasize the need not to attribute all the problems of a disabled person to his or her individuality , as if it were a painful experience that should be carried out in silence. As an alternative, a bio-psycho-social approach is proposed that takes into account the importance of context.

For example, tetraplegia does not generate so many problems if society adapts to it by creating access for wheelchairs and avoiding architectural barriers . Sometimes, the concept of disability can be used as an excuse to bring to the private and individual problems that should be addressed collectively.

Thus, care for disabled people is not only about treatment focused on the individual, but also about social education and networking so that the context is also adapted to the individual, and not just the other way around. Eliminating empowerment implies a change in awareness and also the coordinated action of several people who intend to change the institutions in the public and in the private.