4.25.16 Disability Justice and Activism Discussion Questions

“Interview with Sins Invalid on Disability Justice Theory & Praxis”

  1. What is disability activism? Disability justice? Where are the overlaps? How do they compliment each other?

2. How does the Sins Invalid collaboration with other organizations increase visibility of the disabled community and strengthen the Disability Justice movement, as well as the other social justice movements?

3. What are the differences between how the Disability Rights movement and Disability Justice place disability in the framework of social justice? Are the end results of this placement the same, even though the means is different?

4. In what ways does the Making Connections project allow for increased access into Disability Justice? Does it rely on prior experience with activism, or a developed knowledge of disability theory as a prerequisite for engagement, or does it open up space for the wider community to participate?

5. What is the significance of the performativity of disability in Sins Invalid in shifting the debate to favor the subject of the gaze rather than the gaze itself? How does this taking back of the gaze shift the conversation of disability and start to break down the stigma behind it?

6. A lot of the discussion of Sins Invalid revolves around disability as it is visibly and physically embodied. What does it do with the pathologization of mental illness? Thinking through this quote from the interview may be helpful: “For me, I’m interested in applying concepts of disability justice directly to mental health and politicizing it directly. People are slower to politicize mental health issues, for whatever reason, than other things. It’s helpful for to say we deal with different things, but at the same time there’s a solidarity around disability and crip-ness. We deal with access issues and we’re marginalized in different ways and our other identities also contribute to that marginalization.”

7. “I feel like identifying as disabled is similar to being gay or lesbian or LGB. It essentially still relies on a medicalizing framework. Crip describes more of the politics and the culture where a lived experience of disability is centered. I feel like the way Sins crips things out is crip-centered but there’s also a strong push against gender conformity, there’s a strong push against heteronormativity, we talk a lot about brown queer crip reality and centering us.”

What connections are they drawing between the LGBT movement and disability activism? How is this similar and different from the politicized ties between Queer activism and Crip activism? How are Crip and Disabled similar and different, how do they inform each other?

“Changing the Framework: Disability Justice: How Our Communities Can Move Beyond Access to Wholeness”

  1. How does Mingus frame the discussion of interdependency? What does she mean when she says “interdependency?” Why is this notion of interdependency versus independency so central to disability justice? Is an independent disability justice system possible?

2. How does she envision moving towards a justice-driven accessibility? What do you personally think that would look like?

3. What is the problem with focusing on access alone?

4. Mingus calls for a moving away from an equality based model to a model that embraces difference, confronts privilege, and challenges what is considered normal. In what ways does this exemplify the differences between disability activism and radical disability justice?

5. Disability justice activists are engaged in building an understanding of disability that is more complex, whole and interconnected than what we have previously found. What is the Myth of Independence and how does Mingus confront it? How does disability activism for accessibility promote this myth of independence? How does disability justice activism challenge it?

6. How does the conversation about finding homes relate to texts we have read earlier in the year, especially Eli Clare’s work? Do the two share similar views on finding home? What different kinds of home can we have? What is a political home in Mingus’ mind?

7. How has the disability rights movement carried out conversations of disability in the past? Why is it that disability is so often left out of the conversation of intersectionality of things like racial justice, queer liberation, reproductive justice and other feminist movements?

“Accessible Futures, Future Coalitions”

1. Kafer asks “…what can disability studies and disability movements learn from our own exclusions?” What can disability activism learn from the exclusion of the disabled community from the able-bodied community? What about from the exclusion of disability activism from other forms of social justice activism? Does disability activism exclude other activisms as well? What can we learn from these exclusions and inclusions?

2. What is the role of gendered bathrooms in upholding notions of gender conformity and ableism? What is the role of non-gendered/accessible restrooms in disturbing these notions? Should there be gendered and accessible restrooms?

3. Harvey Molotch is quoted, questioning inclusion vs. exclusion. “Should disabled people demand to be part of the convention [of gender segregated bathrooms]? Or should they be leaders of the movement to combat it?” How can we connect this to other kinds of intersectional solidarity?

4. Kafer then asks, “Who is included or excluded from our political imaginaries? How are ‘disability’ and ‘disabled person’ (or ‘woman’ and ‘queer’ or ‘race’ or….) being defined in these dreams of the future? Who has access to these imaginaries, and how is access being described?”  How does this relate to our previous discussion of crip and queer futurities?


Robb Scott: “Down Syndrome is the best thing that ever happened to me”

I recently saw a video posted online with the headline: ‘Down Syndrome Is the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me’— Father’s Emotional Video About Son Goes Viral. It was posted by Robb Scott, who videotapes himself talking about his experience with Down Syndrome, being a parent of a son who has it. The catalyst for the creation of this video was when Robb overheard another father talking to his-presumably- able bodied son about what Down Syndrome is. This father explained it to his son by saying that it was “an illness of not knowing anything,” which Robb was incredibly upset by, and understandably so.

Robb goes on to say that “Down Syndrome is literally one of the most beautiful things that has ever happened in my life.” He completely rejects this other father’s explanation of Down Syndrome, and provides his own set of alternative synonyms for it, all with positive associations. He says about Down Syndrome: “It’s fun, it’s brilliant, it’s amazing, it’s funny, it’s kind, it’s loving, it’s cuddly” in order to reconstruct Down Syndrome as something that is not inherently negative, and not a condition that should be pitied, looked down upon, or thought of as inferior to a body that is composed of only two #21 chromosomes.

Robb wonderfully throws out the idea that people with disabilities are somehow worth less or bring less valuable contributions to society, saying, “a well educated man does not have more to teach than my son, he has different things to teach, but he does not have more to teach. His knowledge is not more valuable.” I think this is a great example of a positive representation of people with disabilities in media. Even though his son doesn’t make an appearance in the video, the father goes a long way in deconstructing the idea that Down Syndrome is synonymous with unintelligent or thoughtless.

I was a little uncomfortable with him saying that Down Syndrome is “not an illness…it’s not even a disability.” I think this gets into the territory of simultaneously creating a positive representation of disability in media while also undermining it by reinscribing that this couldn’t be a disability because there still is something inherently wrong and undesirable about disability. Maybe that’s not what Robb was trying to get at when he argued that Down Syndrome is not a disability, but I think that is getting into a grayer area of what is and is not productive discourse around disability and its politics.

Original video posted by Robb Scott can be found here:

“Dear Hearing People”

I recently saw a video posted on Facebook called “Dear Hearing People,” produced by Sarah Snow and Jules Dameron.  As you might imagine, this video was made by individuals in the deaf community for individuals in the hearing community. It is a collaborative video showing a number of deaf individuals using sign language to express things that they would like people who have hearing capabilities to know. Voiceover and subtitles are used to translate their message and allow for ease of understanding.

It starts with people explaining the vast differences of people in that community, highlighting the fact that, while they do share community in their deaf-ness, they experience and embody this in different ways and have different needs, abilities, and preferences. While this should be obvious, as the human experience varies an incredible amount across individuals and communities, when they point this out it reminds me that this can be and often is forgotten by society.

Some of the quotes that I picked out of this were:
“Sometimes we can speak” (0:12)
“Sometimes we don’t” (0:14)
“Some of us like to wear hearing aids or cochlear implants to hear” (0:15)
“Please don’t force us to wear hearing aids or lip read for your benefit” (0:25)
“Don’t make decisions for us without our participation or permission” (0:37)
“Most of the time our struggles in society occur when other people make it difficult for us” (1:10)
“Sometimes we are too tired to explain ourselves (1:17)

I picked these particular ones out because they seemed to be well representative of the struggles and frustrations that people in the deaf community, and also more generally in the disabled community as a whole, face when they interact with able-bodied people in a society that has literally been built and shaped by and for able-bodied people.

They go on to list off all of the professions, the vast majority of which are highly respected career paths, that people in the deaf community have. I find it interesting that, in order to successfully  justify people in the deaf community as being valuable contributors to society, they have to frame this through economic contribution and participation. This speaks to the value that able-bodied society places on perceived economic productivity and the resulting marginalization of people who do not fit neatly into this model.

The lack of understanding of the deaf community perpetuates stigma and marginalization of individuals to the point where they have to remind us to not make decisions for them without their participation or permission, which apparently seems more obvious in able-bodied to able-bodied interactions.

Here is the link to the video: https://www.facebook.com/Sarah.Glide.Page/videos/598586356965153/?pnref=story