Learning About Disability & Ableism

Ruben Mota, PhD, ADA Coordinator

In a recent L&S workshop, TAs learned from Ruben Mota, ADA Coordinator in the Office of Compliance, about disability, ableism, and how they can support their students. Ruben led the group through activities exploring accessible introductions and apparent/non-apparent identities, shared actionable ways to avoid ableism, highlighted Universal Design principles, and offered resources for further learning. Read below for some workshop takeaways:


  • Visual Description Introduction: In small groups, individuals introduce themselves with their name, pronouns (if comfortable), and a brief visual description of features others can readily observe.
  • Identity Iceberg: Draw a horizontal line. Above it, list traits other people can observe. Non-observable or non-apparent identity features go below the line. Draw the identity iceberg on your own, and then share in small groups if desired.

Ways to Avoid Ableism: Respect people's agency, use inclusive language, believe people when they disclose, implement requested accommodations, do not touch assistive or mobility device

Some Key Ideas

  • Disability is one facet of diversity, intersecting with other visible and invisible parts of a person’s identity.
  • Some prefer to be described with people-first language (a person with a disability). Identity first is best for others (a disabled person). When unsure, Ruben suggests asking a person their preference or using people-first language.
  • Universal Design principles guide classrooms toward accessibility for all students.