The Invisible Backpack of Able-Bodied Privilege Checklist

There are a couple of these already online, but they are written by able-bodied people, and seem to miss some major points of privilege.  I decided to write my own.

1. I can, if I wish, arrange to attend social events without worrying if they are accessible to me.

2. If I am in the company of people that make me uncomfortable, I can easily choose to move elsewhere.

3. I can easily find housing that is accessible to me, with no barriers to my mobility.

4. I can go shopping alone most of the time and be able to reach and obtain all of the items without assistance, know that cashiers will notice I am there, and can easily see and use the credit card machines.  I also don’t have to worry about finding a dressing room I can use, or that it’s being used as a storage room.

5. I can turn on the television and see people of my ability level widely and accurately represented.

6. I am not called upon to speak as the token person for people of my mobility level

7. I can advocate for my children in their schools without my ability level being blamed for my children’s performance or behaviour.

8. I can do well in a challenging situation without being told what an inspiration I am.

9. If I ask to speak to someone “in charge”, I can be relatively assured that the person will speak directly to me and treat me like I know what I’m talking about.

10. I can belong to an organization/class/workplace and not feel that others resent my membership because of my ability level.

11. I do not have to fear being assaulted because of my ability level.  If am abused by a partner I will have a safe place to go if I wish to leave.

12. I can be reasonably assured that I won’t be late for meetings due to mobility barriers.

13. As I grow up from childhood I will not feel that my body is inferior or undesirable, and that it should be “fixed”, allowing me to feel confident in my current and future relationships.

14. When speaking with medical professionals, can expect them to understand how my body works, to answer my questions, and respect my decisions.

15. My neighborhood allows me to move about on sidewalks, into stores, and into friends’ homes without difficulty.

16. People do not tell me that my ability level means I should not have children. They will be happy for me when I become pregnant, and I can easily find supportive medical professionals and parents like me.  Note: I have heard of one support group for parents with disabilities within my community.  See article

17. I can be reasonably sure that my ability level will not discourage employers from hiring me

18. I know that my income can increase based on my performance, and I can seek new and better employment if I choose; I do not have to face a court battle to get an increase in my income.

19. I can choose to share my life with someone without it being seen as a disadvantage to them

20. If people like me have been discriminated against in history, I can expect to learn about it in school, and how that discrimination was overcome.

21. All people like me are seen as living lives that are worth living

Hi Reader, If you’re from a school, such as a university, and you’ve been referred to this site or are using it as a reference, please know that I’m fine with that. If you could leave me a comment below about how were brought here I’d appreciate it. Thanks!

108 thoughts on “The Invisible Backpack of Able-Bodied Privilege Checklist

    • I like the rest of the list and the first half of #11, but the second half, “If am abused by a partner I will have a safe place to go if I wish to leave.” is goes beyond focusing on the high rates of abuse for disabled people into victim-blaming. Lots and lots of people who aren’t disabled find it very difficult to escape from abusive situations have nowhere to go and no services to access, or can’t for a different reason.

      • Sorry I wasn’t trying to victim blame there. Was trying to make the point that many shelters are inaccessible to women with disabilities. For more info on this topic, check out my post today.

      • I agree, and that’s wrong, but the wording of the second half, especially the “i wish” really does come off as victim-blaming. May I suggest that you focus on the accessiblity instead, so it doesn’t sound that way? ie: There are shelters available that are physically accessible to me.


  1. Number eight is my favorite.

    I would add something about the “ability assumption”. For those of us with non-visible issues, we sometimes tire of explaining ourselves. Go educate yourselves, people! I’m your friend, relative, customer, boss, whatever, not your teacher.

    • Yes, that bugs me, too. Sometimes it also also makes me glad that they recognize it’s difficult, so I have perfectly valid reasons to be cranky & tired.

  2. I agree with all of those except no. 13. I don’t know many people who are either very able or have their abilities impaired in some way who aren’t made to feel defective for their physical appearance and/or abilities and as though they’d be more successful/happy/desirable if only they were “fixed”.

    I will be beeping a closer eye on my own privilege in this area, and will carry it mindfully along with my white & outwardly heterosexual backpacks.

    • Respectfully, Mme G, if you are interested in understanding your privilege in this I would like you to re-think your objection to #13. Thinking you were ugly or overweight or awkward or weird or something is completely different from being forced to undergo hours and hours of PT every day instead of being able to just be a kid, all for the sake of moving slightly more like everyone else. It’s also completely different from being told, as my autistic family members are told, that their brains are broken instead of just different, and that they should dedicate their entire lives to acting and thinking in ways that are alien to them so they will appear ‘normal.’ Disabled people hear from all directions that our entire fundamental aspect is that of a broken individual who needs fixing. Having been both disabled and ablebodied in my life, I can tell you that these two things (feeling like you are defective in an able-bodied context vs. hearing that you need to be fixed/healed/altered before you can just life your life, from all directions including familial, medical, educational, and recreational) are completely different things.

    • Melissa, this is a great list to get my students’ to start thinking about privilege and power in the context of disability oppression.

  3. I would add to #2:
    “I can easily mingle in a gathering of people, rather than having to send an able-bodied friend off to get people to come to me.” (I’ve been that able-bodied friend – in this case, a sighted friend helping a blind one, at her request.)

    Altogether, a good list for checking my own backpack, thank you!

  4. The last few occur to me as mildly ableist as they do not specify able-bodied specifically but seem more general disabilities related. I am able-bodied but I have a pervasive disability which comes as a perceived disadvantage for my partner, for getting around and for accessibility to employment. In fact 13 and then from 16 down are all issues that people with disabilities in general are going to have contend with, whether the disability is physical, mental or even largely invisible.

  5. Great post; it was linked on SlutWalk’s page. I am sorry that so much sh-t gets piled onto you, but appreciate your willingness to explain to those of us who take our (current) able-bodied-ness for granted.

    Would also invite you & any interested to join in a MLK BlogFest at my place. Asking people now, so they have an opp to put together a thoughtful post. Thanks again.

  6. Just tell me if I’m privilege denying, because I’m really not sure about this. I really like this and I think it’s true, but I’m not entirely sure about number 13. There are a lot of able-bodied trans* people, overweight people, and people who are discriminated against based on their sex, gender, race, etc. Is this an issue of intersectionality, or am I safe in saying that it’s simply not true that able-bodied people won’t feel like their body is undesirable, inferior, or needs to be fixed?

      • Likewise. I think this one (13) applies as a rule (generalising of course) to men only (I’m a man and I’d happily consider that it’s in my backpack). I know many able-bodied women whose lives are defined to some extent – and some to the extent that it defines their daily life – by the feeling that their bodies need to be fixed.

        My only reason for noting this is that I think that it’s such an extremely powerful part of male privilege – one which is badly underestimated in terms of its support of the status quo – not wishing to undermine this list at all.

        Found you through a facebook share.

        A powerful list! Thanks.

  7. I was led here by a post on Slutwalk. This is a really great list. I think so many people, myself included, focus on the privileges we don’t have that we ignore the ones we do have that many others don’t. Thanks for posting this.

  8. Have you seen the episode of King of the Hill where Bill uses a wheelchair but, unknown to everyone else until later, his legs are still fully functional? #8 reminded me of that, because it poked fun at people finding him so inspirational, basically because he did ordinary things in a wheelchair.

    About #4 – This was a couple years ago when I was working as a cashier, but I still think about it. There was a woman that was wheelchair bound that came to my line every so often. She was paying and handed me her card, but I pointed to the card machine (I do this whenever a customer tries to hand me their card — they’ll have to use the machine anyway to type in their information) for customers to use, told her she can swipe here, and moved it closer to her. I felt that she would be able to swipe her card fine, and I didn’t want her to feel like I’m trying to baby her. Turns out she did have some difficulty swiping her card; it took some straining on her part, but she got it after a few seconds. I felt like an ass. I should have just swiped it at the register. 😦

  9. This is really great! Number 2 is particularly frustrating, yet invisible to most able-bodied people. I ride the fixed-route bus in my powerchair, and there have been so many times I’ve felt trapped — because! hey! I am! There are four iron hooks locked into iron loops on my chair; these are connected to very strong straps bolted to the bus holding me in place. For me to get off the bus, I need not only the bus driver, but people standing between me and the ramp, to make way.

    I came here from Haddayr Copley-Woods blog. Haddayr writes a lot about being the visible disabled mom of non-apparently disabled kids, as well as science fiction, advertising, being a bicyclist who uses crutches, and other fun stuff.

  10. This is an excellent list.

    When I say that something is physically difficult or impossible for me, I am likely to be believed without particularly much argument or exhausting suggestions of how I should be able to do it or work around; if my ability level drops due to an injury that I am expected to fully recover from, my descriptions of my experiences of the normal conditions in my area are likely to be met with outrage rather than excuses about why it has to remain that way.

  11. This did a really good job of making others aware of the simple things that most people just take for granted that others may not be able to. The only ones I don’t necessarily agree with are 7 (I would argue that parents get blamed for their child’s misbehavior or praised for their achievements regardless of their ability level), and most of all, 13 – the amount of women and men out there with body issues despite their physical health or ability level are very large, scarily so, and the popularity of plastic surgery is a testament to that. Other than that though, this is a very well put together list. I especially like 8, 9 and 19 in that they were things I had never thought about being an issue before that I can see being truly annoying/depressing.

  12. I appreciate this list. It seems focused very heavily on mobility. Few of the items apply to chronic illness, mental illness, or really any non-visible disability. I know most places have a very long way to go in terms of mobility access and sensory access. At the same time,most people haven’t even thought of the accommodations that would be helpful for people with other kinds of disabilities (such as those affecting cognitive processing speed or energy level, chronic pain, chemical injuries, etc.).

    • I agree with you on that point. If you read some of my other entries I do try to take a more cross-disability perspective. For this particular entry I felt it was important not to make assumptions about the experiences of others and speak to my own experiences.

      That said, you’re welcome to add to the list if you like.

  13. Pingback: On parents with disabilities « blue milk

  14. I found this list via a friend on Twitter, and will retweet it (which also passes through to my FB page where more deaf friends and interpreter colleagues see it). If time permits, I may also mention it in a class I’m a guest presenter for (“Perspectives in Assistive Technology”).

  15. Thanks for the great list! I guess I have white and heterosexual in my own list, but have female and mentally ill also. I especially related to under employment of the disabled in 17 and 18. I wish all will be able to show their unique talents which are as varied as there are people, regardless of disability.

  16. Pingback: Who Are My Brothers and Sisters in the Struggle for Justice? | #Occupy at Home

  17. Wow! As a Retired RN, BSN, clinical MSW, and MAT educated elementary teacher, there’s so much about what you wrote that rings true to me, but mostly ONLY for people who are mobility disabled, to the point of requiring a wheelchair. Much of what you wrote doesn’t fit for people like me who have severe, genetic connective tissue disorders, cancers, multiple sclerosis, sensory limitations, and thousands of other conditions.

    Much of my life, I’ve suffered from a wide range of medical conditions that were not correctly diagnosed, let alone treated. Thus, I’ve lived the life of an “able-bodied” person, without for ONE SECOND truly BEING “able-bodied”! I’m just learning NOW, at the age of 50, why I couldn’t catch or throw a ball well, be successful in most PE classes, or please my teacher when it came to hand-writing skills. My Ehlers-Danlos connective tissue disorder has caused my ankles to twist, whenever I run, my fingers to “jam”, whenever I try to catch or “spike” a ball, or “lock up” my finger joints, when I would play my flute or piano, and so on.

    I lived with very severe endometriosis, from the age of 11 through 28. At that point, I finally demanded a complete hysterectomy, because the pain & hormonal dysfunction were making it nearly impossible for me to work in any fashion – not to mention the countless times that work, school, tests, vacations, holidays, etc., were destroyed by hours spent vomiting – which is what would happen, when my pain levels/cramping got that intense).

    Much of my life, I’ve been too impoverished to be able to attend any social event I wanted, because there were no bus routes in that area or I didn’t have money for gas. My one story house has only one step up to enter it, however that one step is a safety challenge for me, every time I try to step up or down it, since I’m partially paralyzed on my left side, from my urologist butchering me, during a “minor” procedure, to remove a kidney stone.

    I’m one of those people you see driving around in one of the store scooters, because I can’t stand upright longer than 15 minutes. I do all of my own shopping and driving to/from the store, but store staff will graciously help me fill a second cart (if needed) and load up my car for me, when I’m ready to pack up and go home. There are only 3 stores in my large metro area that carry clothes in my size, so I almost always order all of my clothes, via catalogs or the Internet. Thus, I try them on, at home.

    As far as being the “token disabled person goes”, I can’t convince most people that I genuinely AM multiply, severely, and PERMANENTLY disabled. Thus, I usually keep some copies of my enormous quantities of CT scans, MRI reports, x-rays, etc., so that I can PROVE I really AM disabled, to the countless numbers of idiots who can’t figure out that the majority of disabilities are “invisible” ones!

    I’m a member of Mensa, yet most people “in charge” treat me like I’m stupid, regardless of the situation! It’s THE REASON that the “Occupy Movements” are going on, from MY perspective! I’ve done AMAZING things, throughout my life, yet I can count on ONE HAND the number of people who have EVER told me I was “an inspiration” to them! Mostly, I’m ignored, overlooked, and/or forgotten – but I’ve never attributed that to my ability or disability levels. I attribute it to their ignorance of the importance of my work/contributions, their lack of social skills, living according to a different set of values than most people (not greed based), and things like that.

    Assembling and disassembling my walker takes me about 5 minutes, at the beginning and end of each community outing (except grocery store shopping, since I use their scooters). However, that’s not the reason I’m usually late for EVERYTHING! I insist on living independently, in my own home, and have two severe sleep disorders that cause me to sleep up to 20 hours/day. Even when I AM awake, I’m ALWAYS tired. My sleep specialist has been trying to talk me into taking amphetamines, to “wake me up” more, but I REFUSE to take a potentially addictive drug, unless it’s absolutely necessary!

    To me, it’s BAD ENOUGH, that I’m on major narcotic pain medication, because my surgeon butchered my left side, when he inappropriately removed my left kidney, leaving me partially paralyzed, in constant, severe nerve pain, and on the brink of requiring kidney dialysis. It is my poor remaining kidney function that is requiring me to take 25 medications/day, including those narcotics (which are my only option, with my severe kidney disease), which I HATE WITH EVERY OUNCE OF MY BEING!

    My body was never considered undesirable or unattractive, when I was a child. However, when I became severely depressed, at the age of 17, and gained 100#, not only did no one say or DO anything about it, I instantly lost any “attractiveness” most people had EVER seen in me! Since I’ve been misdiagnosed SO MANY TIMES, by SO MANY MDs, I rarely trust ANY of them to know ANYTHING about what they are saying.

    As a forcibly-retired RN, I thoroughly educate MYSELF on each and every one of my medications, illnesses, disabilities, treatment options, etc. I’ve known for DECADES, that I and I ALONE, am the “expert” on ME! There’s no MD on the planet who has the time, energy, or interest to study me and my body, like I am motivated to do! In the 25+ years I worked as an RN, the ONLY pay increases I and my fellow RNs EVER GOT, were tiny “cost of living” increases. By the end of my career (after 25+ years of experience and two additional masters’ degrees), I was making LESS MONEY, than when I STARTED my RN career!

    So, obviously our perspectives on “disability” issues are different. Perhaps, you’ll start becoming aware that many of the people you see on TV truly ARE disabled, you just can’t SEE their disabilities, since they’re not in a wheelchair. From what I can tell, your definition of “disability” is remarkably narrow, for someone who has apparently been living with that label, since childhood.

    I promise you that you have privileges that I don’t have and never HAVE HAD! From what you’ve said, having a life partner and children are just two of MANY of those privileges you’ve been blessed with, that I haven’t been. Perhaps you might want to consider adding an extra “Thanksgiving Celebration” to YOUR holiday season, this year, now that you’re a tad bit more enlightened!

    • It sounds like you’ve had a great many stuggles in your life, thank you for having the courage to share them.

      You’re right, my list doesn’t include the experiences of other people with disabilities, but that’s because i don’t think it’s right for me to speak for tham, and I think someone else could better explain that.

      As for a partner, children, or a job. Those experiences were drawn from friends experiences, not mine, but I will be grateful for those privileges when I have them


  18. My sister, who has been paralyzed from the waist down basically her whole life, forwarded this article/ list to me.

    I think it offers VERY valid points.

    #8 however, makes me feel conflicted and kind of awful. I had an article done about her in our local paper this year. She’s my superhero and my “big sister.” I understand the viewpoint regarding this one. I never really paid too much attention to how any of her accomplishments were extraordinary. Life was normal. It wasn’t until I got older that I realized just HOW much more challenging it can be for her to just do the basic day-to-day stuff we ABs do.

    Furthermore, I hoped that her “normal” accomplishments (sports, school/degrees, career) would inspire those who have been recently injured, that life isn’t over now that you have a disability. And offer thought to those that are able-bodied to consider how lucky it is to be able to walk, talk, see, hear etc.

    As far as accessibility goes – it sucks. I’m not AS quick to rant as I used to be. Most people simply don’t think about it! And why would they? The only reason I think about it (even when sis isn’t with me) is b/c I grew up with a sibling that can’t always get around the places she wants to. And it SUCKS! But I’m biased….

    And I’m also just some AB that will truly never know what’s it like to be in that position.
    Conclusion: thought-provoking and well said. 🙂

  19. Pingback: Who Are My Brothers And Sisters In The Struggle For Justice? | Occupy Springfield, IL

  20. I think a lot of able bodied people feel #13, despite facing less prejudice. I think it’s probably especially true of women. Feelings are self-contradictory and based on many things. For example, I’m not sure I ever really felt desirable until recently. Even when I knew objectively that I’m attractive by general social standards. Even when I FELT good looking I didn’t feel desirable, if that makes sense? I dunno, it’s probably because I was bullied as a kid and then had a long emotionally abusive relationship. Anyway, it is still a good point in that a lot of people don’t think about it. Just saying that there are able bodied people out there that know what this particular obstacle feels like even if they know it for different reasons. Know that it can go so far as making you hate yourself when you feel desire, but don’t feel desirable and because you don’t feel desirable either think you will never find someone or think you will have to settle.

  21. What Davey said. Not all disabilities are physical and it’s quite saddening to see an otherwise very good list privilege physical disabilities over mental health problems – as frequently happens. I have Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, bipolar disorder, PTSD and Asperger’s and my mental problems are, while less imparing in terms of mobility (which, by the way, my sister’s agoraphobia isn’t really), are more a threat to my life… In my experience, people with mental disabilities are even discriminated against by otherwise-disabled people. A pity that pattern is unwittingly repeated here (so you’re apparently displaying privilege you didn’t realise you had, going by comments).

    • I’m sorry it too me so long to respond to davey’s comments and yours. The only reason I didn’t include the experiences of other people with different disabilities, is because I don’t have that experience and I don’t feel it’s right for me to speak for them. As I stated in the article, these are simply my additions, it was never intended as an all inclusive list, and I think it would be very difficult to make one list for everyone, because we all experience oppression differently.

      I would encourage and support others to add to this list, and/or make their own.

      I did not intend for anyone to feel excluded because of this list, and I thank you for your comments.

  22. This is a great list & I posted to my FB last week. Another one would be, “I can be reasonably certain that if I walk into an emergency room in reversible distress that the medical personnel will act immediately, without me having to prove that I actually want to live.”

    In 1996 my mother took me into the ER when I went into anaphylaxis after becoming allergic to an antibiotic that I had been on for a sinus infection. Even with my mother telling them to treat me, they stood around my wheelchair doing nothing, just staring at me. After several minutes of struggling to breath & trying not scratch my skin off, I was *just* barely able to hold my medical directive tag (“Spare No Expense; Keep Me Alive”) up for the resident next to me to see, & *then* they all *finally* immediately jumped into action & got me on oxygen, epi, antihistamines, etc., but they had waited so long, I ended up cyanotic & in the ER *much* longer than if they had treated me like anyone else who had *walked* in having an allergic reaction.

  23. As trans, 8, the second half of 11, 13, 14, 19, 20 and 21 do not apply to me, despite being able-bodied. This isn’t a criticism of the list, as all efforts to make people aware of their privilege are important and need to be heard and recognized. Just a small comment on intersectionality. Take it as you will. But thank you for this list / reminder. 🙂

  24. Pingback: Who Are My Brothers And Sisters In The Struggle For Justice? | Occupy Springfield, IL.

  25. Pingback: HOW NOT TO BE A MANARCHIST | manchesterafed

  26. Pingback: Words from a “Cripple”: Why Your ~Ironic~ Use of Slurs Isn’t Funny | bunnika's blog

  27. Pingback: Linkpost for BADD 2012 | ephemeradical

  28. Pingback: Your privileges as a non-cripple « FearBlandness

  29. Pingback: Circular Arguments: “I Asked You to Talk, So Shut the Fuck Up!” and Other Ridiculous Debate Tactics « bunnika's blog

  30. Pingback: Teaching Privilege | Teaching With Questions

  31. Pingback: Your privileges as an able bodied person | Holly Warland

  32. Pingback: Thinking abilities | Just Li

  33. Pingback: Internet and Privilege | Disparate

  34. Pingback: Social Media Minds the Intersectional Gap

  35. Pingback: Understanding Privilege: A Conversation about Personal Understandings « Andrew Joseph Pegoda, A.B.D.

  36. Pingback: Understanding Privilege: A Conversation about Personal Understandings « To Entertain a Thought

  37. Pingback: Ableist language | kill men feed cats

  38. Pingback: How Privilege Works in the U.S. | Oppression Monitor

  39. Pingback: Equity & Inclusion: People with Disabilities Blog Post | Chelby Marie Daigle

  40. Pingback: “Here in Canada, we won’t see your disability”…unless we can profit from it. – B-tch on Wheels

  41. Pingback: My New Year’s Resolution: 2 keep doing the hard work of living | eye ● speak ● deaf

  42. Hi- I’m a high school teacher, using this post as part of a social justice reading of To Kill a Mockingbird. We used Peggy McIntosh’s text at the start of the unit, and it is wonderful to have a response text to be able to use as I do physical ability as a source of privilege. Cheers from Vancouver.

  43. Pingback: Progressives, you have ableist privilege. | The Morbus Crohnicles

  44. Hi! I am taking a Praxis of Inclusion course at my university and this is one of our assigned readings. Definitely brought to light the privilege that I never even considered. Our class has four people enrolled and we were originally placed in a media room in our library, but it is not accessible so our professor would not have been able to reach us. We are still looking for an alternative class room and were considering the honors house, but even that is not accessible and we can’t renovate it since it is a historical landmark. Thank you for the enlightening piece.

    • Hi Abi,
      I’m so glad this was helpful to you! Let me know if you have any questions about it. That’s awful about your classroom. I hope it gets resolved soon. Thanks for the note.

  45. Pingback: The Many Faces of Privilege | kathiecomments

  46. Pingback: Wake up to your privilege! – Hana's Blog

  47. Pingback: Why all the hate? – Kitchen Table Sociology

  48. Thank you for sharing this. This is one of about a dozen privilege checklists referenced on a writers resource website called SpringHole. That website was mentioned in a talk last week that I attended at the Odyssey conference (about disability and aging) in Minnesota (USA).

  49. I’ve been sent this way by a prof in my Family and Community Social Services program at the University of Guelph-Humber in Toronto, Canada. Looking forward to reading it!

  50. Hello! I’m a student from Missouri State University where your list is being referred to in Psychology of Diversity as a Privilege assignment.

  51. I was referred to for homework in my EDS Exceptionality class from my university.
    A lot of this hit home with me, I feel like I am in the middle of this, I have disabilities but am able to body. I feel like my struggles shouldn’t really matter sometimes. But I know I need to see my worth.

  52. I was referred to your article for my Dis/ability class at school.
    Your list was the first required reading (other than the syllabus) for our course!

  53. This reading was required reading on the syllabus for my Somatics and Society class at California Institute of Integral Studies.
    Thank you!

  54. This reading was required for my Counseling the Culturally Diverse class at Hazelden Betty Ford Graduate School.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s