Disability and Ableism

Conversation Guide

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Man in wheelchair shaking hands

In the United States, one in four adults have some type of disability. Even though a quarter of the population is included, this issue can be difficult to talk about. There are a number of factors that may lead people to avoid this conversation: uncertainty around proper terminology, feeling like you don’t know enough about it, or feeling fatigued by having to explain what living with a disability is like. Society has a responsibility to acknowledge and care for all its members. This conversation is a step in that direction, an opportunity to explore topics associated with ableism and disability, and share how our life experiences inform our understanding of this subject.


Note: For this conversation we are using the term “disability” rather than “differently-abled” as it may be more recognizable.

Background Information:

  • Ableism: Discrimination and social prejudice against people with disabilities and/or people who are perceived to be disabled.
  • Non-disabled: A person who does not have a disability.
  • Disability: Any condition of the body or mind (impairment) that makes it more difficult for the person with the condition to do certain activities (activity limitation) and interact with the world around them (participation restrictions). Can include chronic illness, physical disability, cognitive disability, long-haul COVID, anxiety/depression, and many other disability types. Some prefer the term differently-abled.

Let's Get Started!

Living Room Conversations offers a simple, sociable and structured way to practice communicating across differences while building understanding and relationships. Typically, 4-6 people meet in person or by video call for about 90 minutes to listen to and be heard by others on one of our nearly 100 topics. Rather than debating or convincing others, we take turns talking to share, learn, and be curious. No preparation is required, though background links with balanced views are available on some topic pages online. Anyone can host using these italicized instructions. Hosts also participate. 

Why We're Here (~10 min)

Each participant has 1 minute to introduce themselves.

Share your name, where you live, what drew you here, and if this is your first conversation.

Conversation Agreements:
How We'll Engage (~5 min)

These will set the tone of our conversation; participants may volunteer to take turns reading them aloud. (Click here for the full conversation agreements.)

  • Be curious and listen to understand.
  • Show respect and suspend judgment. 
  • Note any common ground as well as any differences. 
  • Be authentic and welcome that from others. 
  • Be purposeful and to the point. 
  • Own and guide the conversation. 

Question Rounds:
What We’ll Talk About

Optional: a participant can keep track of time and gently let people know when their time has elapsed.

Round 1:
Getting to Know Each Other (~10 min)

Each participant can take 1-2 minutes to answer one of these questions:

  • What are your hopes and concerns for your family, community and/or the country?
  • What would your best friend say about who you are?
  • What sense of purpose / mission / duty guides you in your life?

Round 2:

Disability and Ableism (~40 min)

One participant can volunteer to read the paragraph at the top of the web page.

Take ~2 minutes each to answer a question below without interruption or crosstalk. After everyone has answered, the group may take a few minutes for clarifying or follow up questions/responses. Continue exploring additional questions as time allows..

  • When you were growing up, how was disability treated or talked about? How do you consider disability now?
  • How have you or others in your life experienced disability? What assumptions might you make about others based on whether or not they look like they have a disability? If you are living with a disability, what assumptions have people made about you?
  • What have you learned or appreciated by interacting with people living with disabilities different from your own? How did it come about?
  • What is something you wish people asked, or did not ask you about your disability? If you do not live with a disability, what makes you curious to engage or ask people with disabilities about their lived experience?
  • How do we better support persons with disabilities? What access needs have you seen in your community?

Round 3:
Reflecting on the Conversation (~15 min)

Take 2 minutes to answer one of the following questions:

  • What was most meaningful / valuable to you in this Living Room Conversation?
  • What learning, new understanding or common ground was found on the topic?
  • How has this conversation changed your perception of anyone in this group?
  • Is there a next step you would like to take based upon the conversation?

Closing (~5 min)

  • Give us feedback! Find our feedback form here.
  • Donate! Make more of these possible; give here.
  • Join or host more conversations! With a) this group by exchanging your emails; b) others in person and/or by video call online. Get more involved or learn how to host here.

Thank You!