The Disability Justice Initiative

Image of panel of people at Center of American Progress event

Five Favorites from the launch of the Disability Justice Initiative

The work the Center for American Progress and their partners are doing to ensure disability policy has a permanent home in progressive politics is fundamental to ensuring people with disabilities have access to the protections, supports, and services they need. We’re excited to fight for access, inclusion, and equity alongside them.

Happy 28th Anniversary to the Americans with Disabilities Act!

Today is the 28th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. But, as noted yesterday by many individuals at the launch of the Disability Justice Initiative at the Center for American Progress, disability issues can’t be limited to just one day. They can’t even be limited to one issue. Disability matters across all issues — from healthcare to employment, poverty to women’s rights, housing to immigration, racial justice to education — and it should matter to all policy makers, leaders, and communities all year long.

The Disability Justice Initiative, led by Rebecca Cokley, curated a group of women leaders representing all races and abilities to launch the program with an interactive panel that emphasized the importance of an intersectional approach within the disability movement. There was even a Little Lobbyist in the mix, 3-year-old Xiomara. Here are our five favorite quotes from the conversation…

“Being a part of this community allows you to be in a position of strength... I earned this wheelchair and I own this wheelchair and I’m going to use it to get to places faster than you could ever run.“ Senator Tammy Duckworth, Illinois

From being a soldier, to a Senator, to a mom, Senator Duckworth is goals. We loved how she recognized the inherent strength of the disability community while fully acknowledging that the community is also the first to suffer when it comes to healthcare cuts, housing barriers, and regressive policies. Both elements matter.

“Sometimes housing discrimination for people with disabilities doesn’t look the same way discrimination looks for other groups—it looks like building special places to “put us” which is not what people with disabilities want and does not do anything to improve the accessibility or affordability of housing for everyone” Julia Bascom, Autistic Self Advocacy Network

It’s not about building “special” things for people with disabilities, but ensuring that people with disabilities are fully included and represented in communities. Individuals don’t need separate housing (that whole “separate but equal” thing was shot down in the 1950s with Brown v. Board of Education), they need housing period and whatever supports and services are needed to ensure they can retain and thrive in that housing.

"To be clear, all these challenges and barriers were not due to her disability. They are due to a society that does not know how to include and support and care for a child like Xiomara. That’s why we’re here.” Elena Hung, Little Lobbyists

We couldn’t agree more. We talk to individuals and families all the time about the challenges related to disability and every single time these challenges are due to stigma and bias, or a lack of adequate supports and funding. Disability isn’t bad, societal and political responses to it is.

"When you work on inequality, there's no way you can’t think about disability explicitly. All issues you care about include people with disabilities. If you think you don’t do disability, then you’re saying you don’t do people. “ Noorain Khan, Ford Foundation

Funding for disability doesn’t need to be (and shouldn’t be) something special or distinct. Foundations, like the Ford Foundation, should value disability inclusion in all they do. Leaders across all sectors — housing, policy, healthcare, racial justice, and and — need to understand that disability isn’t “an issue” or “a program,” it’s an identity that matters across all they do.

“How can I be black and fight for black rights but, like, find a location that has a ramp? Or have to figure out how we use microphones? Or be intentional about people who are having to deal with the environment and how loud it gets? People are acknowledging very intentionally, that intersectionality is essential to our fight for freedom — and that work still needs to be done.” Keri Gray, DisabilityIN

If you haven’t checked out #DisabilitySoWhite, you should. We’re working a lot at The Kelsey in thinking through our own challenges around representation and intersectionality. To think about disability without thinking about race, income, gender, and sexual orientation is to forget that identity and inclusion isn’t defined as one singular thing–we must give specific attention to how identities intersect.