Disability Justice & Inclusion
Lately I have been thinking a great deal about disability justice and what it means to “center the voice of the most impacted.” Even though a whole civil rights movement has been (and continues to be) fought for people with disabilities to have equal access to physical structures like buildings and busses, and institutional structures like education and employment, our culture still has a tendency to relegate disabled individuals into “second class” status, or simply not think about them at all.
Recently, I was asked to complete a survey on diversity within our board of directors, and was asked about representation of various ethnic and cultural backgrounds, genders, and race, but was not asked about (dis)ability. And while it is crucial that we expand our representation on our board, it is also significant that our organization has a board that is 100% people who are either caregivers, have a disability, or both. Diversity includes disability.
And why should our society include people with disabilities? Why should we care? ADA passed. We have IEPs and 504 plans and IDEA. Isn’t that good enough?
I am not sure that it is. Apart from the fact that those laws are difficult to enforce (sometimes intentionally), including disabled individuals in our lives (and structuring our lives to allow disabled individuals to participate) makes life better for everyone. When we include more people, we all benefit from more perspectives, more gifts and talents.
When we center the voices of those most impacted, we learn to see life differently. There is a richness that comes from living in community with those who are different from us… a deeper understanding of life, and humanity… a brighter vision for the beauty present among us.
My daughter’s concussion-induced migraines force both her and I to slow down and causes me to think differently about invisible disabilities. My son will never do Algebra, or sign his name in perfect cursive, but he is the most generous and forgiving soul you will ever meet. And their lives enrich mine.
I believe that diversity, including disability, teaches all of us that the value of life does not lie in existing within the majority and adhering to the norms, but that a much deeper, immutable, and inherent worth saturates us from the moment we arrive on this planet until the moment we step off from it again. We all have a purpose. We all belong.