Time Has Come to Embrace Disability Justice Movement
The younger movers and shakers of disability nation are
challenging the movement. They are asking tough questions and pushing the
traditional leaders of disability rights to act with integrity in the interests
of the whole community. Savvy leaders should listen to them and facilitate
significant growth in the disability movement.
Community is at the core of the movement for disability
justice, and it is in rather stark contrast to the basis for disability rights.
The disability rights movement was founded by college-educated people of
European descent. They used the model of individual civil rights as applied to
the disability community. The independent living movement was a logical
extension. It was a progressive model for its time. Independent living and the
slogan Nothing about us without us was progressive policy for
people with disabilities who were treated with pity and abhorrence by the
Now, decades after the passage of the Americans with
Disabilities Act and more than 40 years since the passage of the Architectural
Barriers Act, most nationally recognized leaders in disability rights are
white. It is fair to say that the movement has done a poor job of recruiting
people of color in a way that is not tokenism.
Disability justice is a movement founded by younger folks
with disabilities, the majority of whom are people of color. Several are part
of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community. Greater
inclusion is one of the core values of disability justice.
Leroy Moore is a San Francisco Bay Area artist with a
disability who was drawn to the movement for disability justice. He is of
African-American descent. Through my art and activism, I have always been
involved in disability rights, but I have also always questioned how welcome
people of color are in that movement, Moore said.
Moore is an artist who was deeply involved in the issue of
violence against people with disabilities, especially police brutality. He
believes that police brutality is an area that current leaders of the
disability movement avoid. Moore does a monthly article for POOR Magazine,
whose name is an acronym for protest, organize, observe and report.
POOR Magazine is on the front lines with social
justice, Moore said. Disability justice is challenging the
disability rights movement to open up their thinking on how disability affects
poor people of color and (gays who have a) disability.
Disability justice was the brainchild of Naomi Ortiz, a
young disability activist of Hispanic descent. In 2009, there was a disability
justice Labor Day retreat in Michigan, where the principles and program were
created, articulated and thoroughly flushed out. Rahnee Patrick of Chicago
ADAPT participated in it by phone.
One of the most powerful components of the
disability community is our ideal of inclusion, Patrick said. For
us to realize inclusion, we have to address white privilege. We need to address
economic oppression. This may be hard for us to do. We talk about inclusion as
a core principle. The disability justice movement is extending an invitation to
the disability community to challenge ourselves and really do
Participants at the Michigan retreat who called
themselves the Disability Activist Collective mentioned groups traditionally
excluded from the disability rights power structure, such as Native American,
Pacific Islander, Latino and Middle Eastern communities. The independent living
philosophy doesnt always resonate with all cultural groups; in some
cases, they are forced to conform to Caucasian ideologies or methods and then
go back to their communities to translate.
According to the collective, other excluded groups
- People with intellectual disabilities
- People with chronic health disabilities
- Young people
- People with high levels of support needs
- People with multiple disabilities
- People with invisible disabilities
- People in institutions
- Older adults
- People who are interested in things besides rights
- People who cant work
- LGBT people
- Poor people
- People who speak English as a second language
- Disability-specific communities (such as deaf, blind
and little people)
- Members of the HIV/AIDS community
- Substance- or chemically dependent people
The Disability Activist Collective identified power
brokers in the disability community as middle-aged white folks identified with
physical disabilities; research centers; national organizations such as the
National Alliance on Mental Illness, AAPD, NCIL, UCP and MDA; government
programs; disability studies; doctors; parent communities; and Special
Disability justice isnt an indictment of who is in
power. Rather, it is an invitation to each organization and individual to
evolve into a progressive movement that holds the core values of community and
interdependence as opposed to individual rights and independence. For centers
for independent living, the Silicon Valley Independent Living Center (SVILC) is
an example of a group that has adopted the core values of disability
being included on workshop agendas in some national
conferences. Ortiz was the keynote speaker at the Pacific Rim Conference for
People with Disabilities in 2010. The torch has been lit. The challenge to
evolve from rights to justice and inclusion has been issued. Where will you, as
readers and leaders, take it?
Kemp, a writer and activist, took refuge from Washington, D.C., in the wilds of
Zigzag, Oregon. She is president of the Disability Rights Center and a member
of ADAPT and Not Dead Yet.
Disability Justice is grounded in (everything comes from)
doing our own work, self care and safe spaces. Doing our own work means we
challenge ourselves as individuals and as a community to learn about, explore
and understand our own privilege, internalized oppression, values, pride, etc.
Self care means paying attention to what our own bodies, minds and spirits need
to feel balanced, because in order to be good (responsible) to each other we
need to take care of our own needs. (This can include rest, time to reflect or
think, exercise, etc.) Disability justice grows from other justice movements
(Gay, racial, reproductive, poor people and feminist frameworks).