But Disability is Different…

By AJ Withers

The word disability written creatively

Time and time again, people make the argument that disabled people don’t have to be included in social justice movements because disabled people are “different.” Disabled people, they say, are different from other subordinated groups because we have an “intrinsic hardship.” Disabled people, they say, are different because there is something wrong with us. Disabled people, they say, aren’t entitled to the same kinds of social inclusion and social justice because we simply can’t do certain things—our exclusion is justified.

Maybe you’ve even said this. I know I certainly have—before I dealt with my internalized disablism and educated myself about disability politics. This is one way that disablism works. It convinces us that disabled people are separate and different so there is no need to fight back, no need to be an ally. Indeed, widely respected feminists, anti-racists, anti-capitalists, queer liberationists/gay rights activists and trans liberationists/trans rights activists have all said it. To a certain extent, every identity-based movement has worked to distance itself from disability and disabled people—screwing over their own otherwise-disabled members in the process. However, women, people of colour, poor and working class people, queer and trans people have all been widely (if not entirely) considered disabled at some point in history.

The argument that those groups were different and simply not as capable as rich-straight-white-men was seen as incontrovertible truth. Now we know otherwise. It is important to question: why it is okay to make disabled people an exception? Why it is okay to justify the continued oppression of disabled people—even in social justice movements? Why, when biology is now widely understood to be a social construction and not an acceptable justification for the oppression of other groups, is biology deemed to be neutral in the case of disabled people? Why is it okay to pay lip service to ending only certain kinds of marginalization and oppression for disabled people and leave others intact? Do we really want to allow entitlement to social justice based on how closely people adhere to arbitrary views of normal? Is it okay to continue to hold to ideas that justice is only for some, not all? Dig deep. Do you have an answer to these questions that is actually valid or do you just rely on your problematic assumptions about disability to justify disabled people’s oppression? Let’s stop building a world where some people just can’t fit and excluding those people for being who they are. Let’s build a better world.

A photograph of a brick wall with graffiti that says But TV Dinners Just Taste Better