Contemporary Concerns in the Disability Justice Movement

Protesters in New York City for climate change with a person at the front holding a sign saying "defund fossil fuels"

Climate Change

In the emerging climate crisis, individuals with environmental illnesses, autoimmune diseases, and other disabilities are often experiencing the effects of environmental changes first and/or most severely. The International Climate Justice Movement has widespread support and involvement from folks with disabilities who are already experiencing the effects of the climate crisis in a particularly harmful way. 

Covid-19 Pandemic

Beginning in 2020, the COVID-19 global pandemic greatly impacted the disabled community and approaches to disability justice work in many ways. For instance, it has led to increased visibility of the disabled community and recognition of the disproportionate impact on marginalized groups, including people who are immunocompromised, as well as communities of color. The pandemic has also urged people to think about accessibility differently, with many schools, employers, and other organizations offering greater flexibility around remote participation, and more widespread adoption of adaptive/assistive technology that benefits folks with diverse abilities and accommodation needs.

Reflection: Although the Covid-19 pandemic is still ongoing, many institutions/organizations have expressed a desire to return to pre-pandemic norms and procedures. You may have heard the phrase “going back to normal” being used in various spaces, but what implications might this return to pre-pandemic norms have for accessibility and disability justice?

Read this quote from activist and writer Sonya Renee Taylor and consider the questions that follow: “We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our pre-corona existence was not normal other than we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate and lack. We should not long to return my friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment. One that fits all of humanity and nature.” and reflect upon the following questions:

Who benefits from going “back to normal”? Who may be harmed in this process? What is the impact on people with disabilities in particular?

How can we continue to use and expand upon the strategies and technologies utilized since Covid-19 to further accessibility and justice?

Post-ADA Disability Justice: What’s Next?

While the passage of the ADA in 1990 sparked a variety of much-needed changes, many Americans perceive this legislation as having “solved” inaccessibility, instead of seeing it as the invitation to continually imagine new possibilities that it should have been–and still can be! Basic ADA compliance is not an endpoint when it comes to crafting accessible, inclusive spaces, but rather a place to begin. 

The World Institute of Disability, along with other disability justice organizations, encourages us to consider how we can progress beyond disability rights (basic civil rights for people with disabilities) to disability justice - an intersectional, coalition-based approach to holistic cultural change that benefits everyone by centering and uplifting the needs of people with disabilities.

Future offerings in this toolkit series will invite the UMass community into deeper conversations about inclusivity beyond ADA compliance, and encourage readers to consider how we can all play an important role in cultivating environments that honor and promote true disability justice.