HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Case Western Reserve University School of Law

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Centering Disability Justice

Natalie M. Chin (CUNY), Centering Disability Justice, Syracuse L. Rev. (forthcoming):

The coronavirus pandemic surfaced existing faults in the disability rights strategy, exposing a porousness in access to the promises of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for disabled Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color. This article examines the unsustainability of disability rights through the lens of Blackness and disability to argue that the future effectiveness of disability rights advocacy demands a re-centering that incorporates principles of Disability Justice. This recalibration requires a shift from a single-issue focus on disability to an informed consciousness that confronts the role of racism/ableism on Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color in accessing disability rights protections. This singular focus reflects the lack of intersectional analysis when it comes to issues of disability. It further points to the need for advocates to more strongly align themselves with other social justice movements in developing a strategy for disability rights and to intentionally center the voices and leadership of Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color into disability rights strategy. 

This article argues that the absence of a critical racism/ableism analysis is subsuming the goals of disability equality under the ADA. In particular, the single-issue focus on disability is erasing the complex experiences that multiply marginalized disabled people experience, creating a revolving door of inequities that are compounded in disabled communities of color. This article focuses on Blackness in four areas: education, access to medical care, police violence, and the unjustified segregation of people with disabilities in carceral spaces. It further narrows its analysis by centering the discussion on Blackness and deaf/disabled people and persons who are categorized with intellectual, developmental, cognitive, and/or psychiatric disability. 

This examination endeavors to show that communities of color are benefiting very little by ADA advances and, in many respects, are existing under the conditions of a pre-ADA world. In so arguing, this article finds that a re-centering of the disability rights strategy is required to bridge a disconnect that has developed over time between disability rights advances and people with disabilities who live at the intersection of marginalized identities. This article concludes by applying three principles of the Disability Justice framework—intersectionality, centering the leadership and voices of the disabled communities most impacted, and cross-movement solidarity—to suggest a broader disability rights framework that centers its work more intentionally and structurally beyond a single disability-rights focus. Through this re-centering, this article seeks to map a way forward for the future of disability rights.

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