Disability justice is an emerging form of discourse and one that is highly important. Disability justice has the ability to transform the ways people and organizations work towards increased inclusion and sustainability.
In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, a number of countries have passed laws aimed at reducing discrimination against people with disabilities. These laws have begun to appear as the notion of civil rights has become more influential globally, and follow other forms of anti-discrimination and equal opportunity legislation aimed at preventing racial discrimination and sexism which began to emerge in the second half of the 20th century.
Questions regarding the small numbers of specific populations within the larger population of People with Disabilities in America have arisen; questions that can be approached from a disability justice perspective.
The question of why there are so few LGBTQI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning and Intersex) people with disabilities or people of color who experience forms of disabilities involved in social justice work has been raised by Mia Mingus, a disability justice activist. She also raises questions related to this, such as why there is a pattern of, 'burnout,' among activists in communities, and why some issues are not discussed related to disability social justice spaces that prevent people from supporting one another, or encouraging each other and ourselves to practice self-care.
One of the things Mia suggests is that disability justice places LGBTQI members of America's largest minority population, People with Disabilities, as well as people of color, at the center of the conversation; I cannot help but agree. Disability justice is a movement not simply for the rights of people with disabilities as a whole, but for many forms of liberation and empowerment, as well as mutual support and sustainable systems of care for us all.
Mia states, "Disability justice is a multi-issue political understanding of disability and ableism, moving away from a rights based equality model and beyond just access, to a framework that centers justice and wholeness for all disabled people and communities." Disability justice does not merely involve our rights as People with Disabilities; it involves the environment we live in, much as Justin Dart said it does. Justin stated at the National Council on Disability (April 27-29 in Dallas, Texas), "You cannot be responsible for the members of your own family without being responsible for the society in which they live and the air that they breath."
The emergence of the environmental justice movement is a response to the more mainstream environmental movement, which focused on the conservation of natural resources yet did not take into consideration how people who are poor and people of color experience a higher incidence of environmental hazards in both America and on an international level. Environmental justice challenges class-ism and racism which are inherent in policy decisions related to the environment.
In a similar fashion, disability justice asks the disability rights movement to look beyond services for People with Disabilities and accessibility to issues including race, class, gender, and sexuality and their impact on life with disability. Disability justice challenges those who advocate for People with Disabilities to create a more justice-based and inclusive movement.
Inclusion is undeniably one of the most prominent goals of the entire disability rights movement. Disability justice is asking the disability rights movement to examine the populations within the overall population of People with Disabilities with greater clarity, to posit relevant and imperative questions pertaining to them in order to achieve greater inclusion for our entire population and the environments in which we live.
The fact that almost everyone in the world will experience a form of disability at some point in their life, or will know someone affected by disability, continues to be denied by vast populations and governments. From politicians to cashiers at grocery stores, people in all segments of societies will age if they somehow manage to avoid a form of disability if nothing else. Should a person find themselves with the privilege of growing old, they will likely experience a loss of a number of abilities many take for granted, such as:
There are vast numbers of People with Disabilities who do not have the privilege of acting as if their lives are independent in the ways mentioned above. 'Ableism,' is dependent upon the maintenance of the myth that people can be self-sufficient if they are somehow strong enough, or smart enough; it is the myth of independence. Hospitals, assisted living facilities, long-term care facilities, in-home care agencies and more would not exist if this myth was reality.
Disability justice proposes a framework where one views oneself as more relational and transformative; interdependent with others where physical and emotional health and well-being in the community are concerned. Interdependency values the connection we have with others and the communities in which we live. While evaluating efforts to work towards disability justice and advocating for populations that are underrepresented within the population of People with Disabilities as a whole, there are some different points to bear in mind.
The barriers People with Disabilities face are present in every area of community life and start in both civil and political society. The Americans with Disabilities Act has not removed all of the barriers we face as a whole population, let alone for particular populations with our social whole. The varieties of environmental barriers we face differ among specific populations of People with Disabilities and are not being approached from these perspectives to the degree needed.
Education within specific populations of People with Disabilities is essential. There are many of us who do not have the education we need in order to challenge the stigmas related to frailty and incompetence. Many of us still don't believe we should.
Disability rights advocates and researchers, working in fields such as education, health, anthropology, social work, public administration, law, and political science, present a number of opportunities for both interdisciplinary cross-collaboration and the substantive advancement of disability justice. Despite their efforts, solutions to systemic inequities related to People with Disabilities have yet to be found, even over years of time.
Social equity and justice for diverse populations of People with Disabilities cannot be achieved through government policies alone. Efforts on the part of civil society must be included in order to reach these goals. A civil society that is inclusive, strong, and welcoming of diversity cannot be achieved until the government supports such a civil society.
Unfortunately, traditional non-governmental organizations and non-profits leave little room for inclusion of the voices of People with Disabilities. We are not being allowed to participate to the degree we should and need to be. Instead, we are relegated to the sidelines of both development and community participation.
Blatant and deliberate human rights violations on a global basis, as well as a lack of policy implementation, continue to persist in relation to disenfranchised populations - including People with Disabilities. Pursuit of a multidisciplinary approach provides a holistic means of dealing with systematic failures, such as those we are witnessing in the world today. Disability justice impacts every field and citizen while affirming that ever person has a role to play.
- Article adapted from "What Disability Justice Has To Offer Social Justice" by Theo Yang Copley.