Uprooting Ableism and Cultivating Disability Justice

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Op-ed: Policymakers must pursue frameworks that dismantle systems and institutions that are incompatible with all life, especially the lives of Black women.

EDITOR’S NOTE: “Hear Us” is a series of columns featuring experts of color and their views on issues related to economics and racial justice. We recognize that the title of the series does not honor the deaf experience, so we are revising the name of the column so as not to advocate for audism. Follow the series here and on #Listen4Justice.

WRITER’S NOTE: Throughout this opinion piece, I use the terms “people with disabilities” and “people with disabilities” interchangeably. Using the language of identity first honors the linguistic shift that self-advocates within the disability community have ushered in in recent years, while affirming that our community is not a monolith and that each of us has a right to identify as such. to choose.

Today’s COVID crisis leaves no doubt that US lawmakers continue to view people with disabilities as disposable. The unfathomable loss of life in the last two and a half years is the result of political choices rooted in organized abandonment and eugenics.

The COVID crisis is a mass disable event, and it is a stark reminder of the profound consequences when lawmakers ignore the central role of ableism in sustaining economic and racial oppression. defenders of disability justice (DJ), a framework created by disabled queer activists of color, has sounded the alarm about the harms of ableism, an entrenched system that targets people with disabilities, persecuting and punishing them because their bodies and minds do not respect socially constructed norms. DJ represents a departure from solely rights-based, single-issue approaches of the past, advancing instead an intersectional and collective vision for liberation and justice.

As too many people still yearn to return to “normal,” a time marked by deep inequalities made worse by COVID, and in which our economy and society only functioned for a powerful, able-bodied, wealthy, white few, it is crucial that we confront ableism in ways that focus those most harmed by its reach. This is an especially important consideration for those of us working to free ourselves from the shackles of white supremacy and capitalism.

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July 26 is National Disability Independence Day, in honor of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), enacted in 1990. As social pressures and state interests have redefined the legal boundaries of disability over time, the main issue that legislators, organizers, and advocates must grapple with is the same: who wields power and who is made powerless by existing systems and policies.

Thirty-two years after the passage of the ADA, Black women with disabilities are still disproportionately overwhelmed for the preservation and justification of ableist oppression.

The entanglement of disability, race and gender

The legal classification of disability in the US has always been tied to a person’s ability to produce work, which itself is heavily racialized and gendered. This, of course, goes back to the legitimation of movable slavery. From the pre-war period to today, instruments of social controlincluded pathologization Y medicalization, have been used to structurally marginalize certain groups in the service of the economic and political interests of the predominantly white wealthy few in power. The resulting matrix of mass institutionalization, eugenics, and criminalization continues to marginalize disabled Black women today, causing toxic stress Y early death.

As noted above, our government’s eugenic response to COVID has accelerated the increasing prevalence of disability in the US in 2021, 1.2 million more people identified with a disability compared to 2020. Like race, the incidence of disability is more concentrated in certain geographic areas and within specific communities. Consistently, blacks as a whole have disability rates up to 2.5 times higher than that of whites.

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Also, just 27% of disabled black women of working age had a job in 2020, which is especially alarming when juxtaposing disabled white women and white disabled men at 33.7 percent and 40.3 percent, respectively. In the same year, 25% of black adults with disabilities lived in povertycompared to 14% of disabled white adults. Disabled people as a whole are excluded from the paid labor economy at extraordinarily high rates, with disabled black women particularly affected. And because the state rations access to health care and other vital resources based on employment status, the consequences of such economic deprivation are life-altering. Even when disabled black workers are able to access the labor market, they face unequal pay (among other injustices), receiving only 68 cents for every dollar earned by able-bodied white workers.

Capable oppression goes far beyond the workplace. Prisoners at the state and federal level are about 2.5 times more likely as the general adult population to report having a disability or chronic illness. Also in this domain, black women are especially disadvantaged, since they are more likely to be incarcerated than their white counterparts. People with mental health disabilities, particularly black women, face constant risk of involuntary institutionalizationshowing a way in which incarceration and surveillance extends beyond the walls of prisons and jails.

Together, these policy fixes make disabled Black people and their lives expendable. Similar to best black women (BWB) frame, disability justice (DJ) serves as the starting point of the defense of a single subject. Applied together, these frameworks have the potential to disrupt the drivers and consequences of capable systems, including economic domination and exploitation. It should be noted that DJ focuses on the liberating possibilities of community organizing and grassroots movement building, but his 10 fundamental principles they also offer a pathway to transformative policy making.

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Disability Justice and Black Women Best

Disabled people, particularly Black women, deserve to thrive. The DJ framework recognizes the innate value of human life and, in line with BWB, “holds a vision born of collective struggle”, as fixed by Patty Berne and elevated by Sins Invalid. As Berne’s Disability Justice Working Draft further explains, central to DJ is understanding that:

  • “All bodies are unique and essential.

  • All bodies have strengths and needs that must be met.

  • We are powerful, not despite the complexities of our bodies, but because of them.

  • All bodies are bound by ability, race, gender, sexuality, class, nation-state, religion, and more, and we cannot separate them.”

At a minimum, DJ and BWB policy making should To unconditionally provide access to vital resources and community-based care that we all need and deserve. By focusing on black women, we are better positioned to design policies capable of facilitating such transformative change for all marginalized groups. Additionally, complementary policy measures must be taken, including those that delink from criminalization and surveillance; disrupt and reverse the capture of public goods by private interests; and meaningfully include and focus Black disabled women in the ideation, design, and implementation of DJ and BWB policy.

Abolitionist geographer Ruth Wilson Gilmore reflects that “where life is precious, life is precious.” To dismantle all policies that are, by design, incompatible with whole life, BWB must be applied in conjunction with DJ. When the lives of Black women with disabilities and their needs are seen as precious, and protected as such, then the lives and needs of all will no longer be controlled by oppressive people and systems that deny us collective space to not only live, but also to live. thrive.

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Azza Altiraifi is a senior policy manager at Liberation in a generation.