Disability justice

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Disability justice is a framework that examines disability and ableism as it relates to other forms of oppression and identity (race, class, gender, sexuality, citizenship, incarceration, size, etc.).[1] It was developed starting in 2005 by the Disability Justice Collective, a group of "Black, brown, queer and trans" people including Patty Berne, Mia Mingus, Stacey Milbern, Leroy F. Moore Jr., Eli Clare, and Sebastian Margaret."[1] In disability justice, disability is not defined in "white terms, or male terms, or straight terms."[1] Disability justice also acknowledges that "ableism helps make racism, christian supremacy, sexism, and queer- and transphobia possible" and that all those systems of oppression are intertwined.[1] The disability justice framework is being applied to the intersectional reexamination of a wide range of disability, human rights, and justice movements.[2][3][4][5]


Initially conceived by queer, disabled women of color, Patty Berne, Mia Mingus, and Stacey Milbern, in the San Francisco Bay Area, disability justice was built in reaction to their exclusion from mainstream disability rights movement and disability studies discourse and activism, as well as the ableism in activist spaces.[1] They were later joined by Leroy Moore, Eli Clare, and Sebastian Margaret.[1] Disability justice centers "disabled people of color, immigrants with disabilities, queers with disabilities, trans and gender non-conforming people with disabilities, people with disabilities who are houseless, people with disabilities who are incarcerated, people with disabilities who have had their ancestral lands stolen, amongst others."[1]

As mentioned before, disability justice movements discuss the various systems of oppression even within the disability community. One specific example for the Asian American community would be how oftentimes, members are unable and refuse to get help for mental health because it is seen as "taboo" in their culture. Since mental health is an "untouchable" topic in Asian culture, members who struggle with it hide it due to shame and embarrassment, and therefore are not able to share their experiences with their community and society in general. This reflects how the identities of being an Asian American and also possessing a mental disability cause these members to have a "lesser" voice in society. The disability justice movement seeks to spread awareness on how ableism is much more complex than people struggling with a disability [ies].

Sins Invalid, the group through which the founders were connected, defines disability justice through ten key principles: intersectionality, leadership by those most affected, anti-capitalism, solidarity across different activist causes and movements, recognizing people as whole people, sustainability, solidarity across different disabilities, interdependence, collective access, and collective liberation.[6][1][7]

The disability justice work of the Bay area activists has informed the development of the Disability Justice Initiative in Washington, D.C. On July 26, 2018, the 28th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), the Center for American Progress (CAP) formally announced its Disability Justice Initiative, under the direction of Rebecca Cokley.[8] CAP is the first public policy think tank to specifically focus on disability.[8][9] Recognition of the need for an intentional and intersectional approach was driven in part by attempts to cut the Affordable Care Act.[9]

In April 2019, Performance Space New York hosted a three-day festival developed around the disability justice framework. Performance Space New York worked with the political arts group Arika, the Whitney Museum of American Art and others to bring together disabled artists and writers. Entitled I wanna be with you everywhere (IWBWYE), the festival attempted to create an experience of "access intimacy", in which needs were "respected, anticipated, and lovingly welcomed".[10][11]

Critiques of Disability Rights[edit]

Like earlier critiques of reproductive rights by reproductive justice activists and critiques of environmentalism by environmental justice activists,[1] the founders of the disability justice movement thought the disability rights movement and disability studies overly focused on straight white men with physical disabilities to the exclusion of others.[12]

Many in the disability justice movement were also critical of an emphasis on rights without a broader examination of systems of oppression (for example, the right to an education does not mean that all education is equitable).[2]

Writer and activist Audre Lorde is frequently referenced as inspirational to the disability justice movement, for works such as her essay "A Burst of Light: Living with Cancer", which addresses disability, illness, and racial justice,[4] emphasizing that "We do not live single issue lives".[5] Writers such as Catherine Jampel have emphasized the importance of disability justice to an intersectional reexamination of environmental justice.[5] Writers such as Jina B. Kim draw upon disability justice and "crip-of-color" critiques in an attempt to develop an intersectional critical disability methodology which emphasizes that all lives are "enriched, enabled, and made possible" through a variety of means of support.[4]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Bartlett, Jennifer, Sheila Black, and Michael Northen. 2011. Beauty is a verb: the new poetry of disability. ISBN 9781935955054
  • Ben-Moshe, Liat, Chris Chapman, and Allison C. Carey. 2014. Disability Incarcerated. New York: Palgrave Macmillan US. ISBN 9781138930223, 9781138930230
  • Block, Pamela, Devva Kasnitz, Akemi Nishida, and Nick Pollard. 2016. Occupying Disability: Critical Approaches to Community, Justice, and Decolonizing Disability. Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands. doi:10.1007/978-94-017-9984-3.
  • Brown, Lydia X. Z., E. Ashkenazy, and Morénike Giwa Onaiwu. 2017. All the weight of our dreams: on living racialized autism. ISBN 9780997504507
  • Clare, Eli. 2015. Exile and pride: disability, queerness, and liberation. ISBN 9780822360162
  • Kafer, Alison. 2013. Feminist, queer, crip. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. ISBN 9780253009340
  • Khakpour, Porochista. 2018. Sick: a memoir. ISBN 9780062428738
  • Levins Morales, Aurora. 2019. Medicine stories: essays for radicals. ISBN 9781478001904
  • Lewis, Talia A. Disability Justice In the Age of Mass Incarceration: Perspectives on Race, Disability, Law & Accountability, Northeastern University School of Law, Public Interest Law Syllabus, Summer 2016. goo.gl/uwGIB0. Course Archive: #DisabilityJusticeNUSL.
  • Moore, Leroy F. Jr. 2017. Black disabled art history 101. San Francisco, CA: Xochitl Justice Press. ISBN 9781942001577
  • Onazi, Oche. 2020. An African Path to Disability Justice Community, Relationships and Obligations. doi:10.1007/978-3-030-35850-1.
  • Patterson, Jennifer, and Tourmaline. 2016. Queering sexual violence: radical voices from within the anti-violence movement. ISBN 9781626012738
  • Piepzna-Samarasinha, Leah Lakshmi. 2018. Care work: dreaming disability justice.
  • Lorde, Audre. 2007. The cancer journals. San Francisco, CA: Aunt Lute Books. ISBN 9781879960268
  • Luczak, Raymond. 2015. QDA: a queer disability anthology. ISBN 9781310957147
  • Roberts, Dorothy E. 1997. Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty.
  • Schalk, Sami. 2018. Bodyminds reimagined : (dis)ability, race, and gender in black women's speculative fiction. ISBN 9780822370734
  • Sicolo, Paola Silvana, and Alejandra Marchevsky. 2019. Enabling Disability Justice: Toward A Transformation of Latin American Studies. ISBN 9781085585491
  • Sins Invalid (Organization). 2019. Skin, tooth, and bone: the basis of movement is our people : a disability justice primer. ISBN 9781647133658
  • Washington, Harriet A. 2010. Medical Apartheid The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present. Paw Prints. ISBN 9780767915472
  • Wong, Alice. 2018. Resistance and hope: essays by disabled people.

External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Piepzna-Samarasinha, Leah Lakshmi (2018). Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice. Vancouver, BC, Canada: Arsenal Pulp Press. ISBN 978-1-55152-738-3.
  2. ^ a b Mchangama, Jacob (2015). "Against a human rights-based approach to social justice" (PDF). In Lettinga, Doutje; van Troost, Lars (eds.). Changing perspectives on human rights Can human rights bring social justice? Twelve essays. Amnesty International Netherlands. pp. 53–58. ISBN 978-90-6463-370-6.
  3. ^ Soto, Theresa I. (July 26, 2018). "What Plastic Activists Need to Know About Disability Justice". Greenpeace. Retrieved 9 May 2019.
  4. ^ a b c Kim, Jina B (May 2017). "Toward a Crip-of-Color Critique: Thinking with Minich's 'Enabling Whom?'". Lateral. 6 (1). doi:10.25158/L6.1.14.
  5. ^ a b c Jampel, Catherine (11 January 2018). "Intersections of disability justice, racial justice and environmental justice". Environmental Sociology. 4 (1): 122–135. doi:10.1080/23251042.2018.1424497. S2CID 158584968. Retrieved 10 May 2019.
  6. ^ Berne, Patricia; Morales, Aurora Levins; Langstaff, David; Invalid, Sins (2018-04-25). "Ten Principles of Disability Justice". WSQ: Women's Studies Quarterly. 46 (1): 227–230. doi:10.1353/wsq.2018.0003. ISSN 1934-1520. S2CID 89888984.
  7. ^ Tataryn, Myroslava (May 2017). "Skin, Tooth, and Bone – The Basis of Movement is Our People: A Disability Justice Primer". Reproductive Health Matters. 25 (50): 149–150. doi:10.1080/09688080.2017.1335999. JSTOR 26495943. PMID 28784067.
  8. ^ a b Perry, David M. (August 14, 2018). "'Disability Rights Are Civil Rights': Inside the CAP's New Disability Justice Initiative". Pacific Standard. Retrieved 12 May 2019.
  9. ^ a b "The Disability Justice Initiative Moves Beyond the ADA to Raise the Bar for Progressive Movements". Autostraddle. August 2, 2018. Retrieved 12 May 2019.
  10. ^ Crawford, Chloe (May 9, 2019). "A Performance Festival by and for Disabled Artists A glimpse into the impressive breadth and variety of performances and lived experiences of disability". Hyperallergic. Retrieved 12 May 2019.
  11. ^ Kim, Sarah (April 26, 2019). "One Of The Kind Performing Arts Festival, By And For The Disability Community". Forbes. Retrieved 12 May 2019.
  12. ^ Bell, Chris (2017). "Is disability studies actually white disability studies?". In Davis, Lennard J. (ed.). The Disability Studies Reader (Fifth ed.). New York, NY: Routledge. pp. 406–410. ISBN 9781317397861. OCLC 963580550.