Disability Rights Aren’t Intersectional
By Tiffany Hammond
Dear Disability Activists:
The Social Model will not save us and “Disability Rights” aren’t Intersectional
We need to have a serious conversation about the Social Model so many of you cling to in your advocacy. It feels inclusive in theory and in its construction, but feels anything but when put into practice. When it comes through in your work, I don’t feel the least bit involved in your efforts. I don’t feel included. I don’t feel thought of.
Read the room. I am not the only one. You don’t have to search long to read the frustrated words of disabled BIPOC who are simply tired of screaming that the fight that disability rights activists are waging has done little to include us.
A large part of the disconnect so many of you have is that you center your advocacy on “rights” and that you subscribe to the Social Model of Disability.
The social model looks at disability as a social construct that places a value on the minds and bodies of disabled persons. Differences and anything that deviates from the norm is seen as less valuable and therefore segregated from society.
The social model treats all impairments the same, concerning itself with removing barriers and obstacles it feels are what keeps us isolated from the community. This model assumes that all disabled persons are capable of accessing whatever services they need once the barriers are removed. It does very little to take into account the individual impairment of the disabled person nor their individualized experiences not only as a disabled person but as someone with multiple intersecting oppressions.
The social model doesn’t include as many as many think it does. It assumes that disability and disability alone is what keeps us at a disadvantage. It’s only my mind that keeps me down in this society. Not my gender, or race, or age, or socioeconomic status. I am on the outside because I’m disabled. That’s it. Nothing more. Nothing less. But it’s not it.
This model is better than previous ones, it attempts to operate within the realm of inclusivity and diversity but the disabled community is anything but diverse and inclusive in its activism. And perhaps this is why this model fails? Because it’s not put to use in the manner it’s intended? I highly doubt it but I thought I would inject this for you to mull over.
“The social model is too hard for me to get behind. I deviate from many disability advocates on this because I don’t trust this model to do right by those like me and as far as I am concerned, it has not. It acts as though it wants to include those like myself but only part of myself.”
This model has the freedom to focus on multiple oppressions and link them with capitalism, but it is generally weighted towards only disability as being the sole oppression we face.
Capitalism is at the heart of many of the problems the disability community faces within a social model. But this model often fails to take into account that while there may be some oppressions shared between me and other members of this community, there are so many differences. We don’t have the same oppressions. Or privileges. We aren’t impacted by our disabilities the same. We don’t experience this life in the same way.
And thus, disabled BIPOC persons are often lost, hidden, and discarded within this movement….and this model. Even non-BIPOC disabled subsets of this population can be lost within this model because there isn’t adequate focus on the individualization of their disabled experience (those in long term care facilities, survivors of mental health systems, those with lifelong chronic health conditions, those with ID, just to name a few).
Let me repeat this: Even white disabled persons are lost within this model because of how disability not only shapes their lives but their experiences as well. There’s not enough focus on the individualization of their disabled experience. Disability is looked at too broadly within this model. Disability doesn’t affect us all in the same manner.
The Neurodiversity Movement heavily favors the social model.
This is one of the areas in which we part ways. I take no issue with the Neurodiversity Movement as a whole, I consider myself to be a supporter, but like this model it so finds itself drawn to, it’s not as inclusive as it claims to be, focusing on my mind and often neglecting the other parts of my person.
As disability activists, we need to further examine how Neurodiversity can interact with Intersectionality, possibly creating an entirely new framework upon which to lay our advocacy. Intersectionality will bring together those other oppressions we face so you can better understand how our oppressions and privileges interlock with one another. When developing social supports for members of this community, it’s incredibly important that we look beyond the diagnostic features most associated with a specific diagnosis, and include a thorough examination of cultural factors, life experiences, and more. Approaching from a strictly Intersectional vantage point will help to identify the needs and provide suggestions on how best to support specific members and the community as a whole. This is Intersectional Advocacy.
“Intersectionality as a theoretical framework and how it can coexist with Neurodiversity as a paradigm should be examined further. Doing so will probably make it more likely for you as a Disability Activist to see how a social model is not beneficial for the disabled community in the long run. It’s honestly not good right now.”
Intersectionality and Neurodiversity need to be examined together because they both seek to highlight the differences within certain groups and address the specific needs of these groups. Intersectionality seeks to make those unseen, seen and questions privileges and oppressions that put so many at a disadvantage. And as someone who is part of the Neurodiversity movement, I can see through the actions of the community that careful examination of commonalities and differences as well as shared oppressions.
I am Black. I am disabled. And these two identities converge and create a new experience.
Exploring Intersectionality and Neurodiversity interacting with one another could create an entirely new framework. I think if we can nail that down, we can better understand the concepts of diversity and inclusion…and we can better create a disability model that is truly reflective and works for the entire disability community.
We owe each other that much.
Let’s talk about your incessant need to brand yourselves “Disability Rights” advocates and why it’s incredibly problematic for disabled BIPOC like myself.
“Disability Rights Movements are governed by white disabled persons. They are the face of the movement. The fight begins and ends with what they find most advantageous for their cause, and that they attempt to state should be our cause as well.”
“Disability Rights” aren’t intersectional. If you brand yourself a “Disability Rights” advocate, you are missing entire subsets of this population that are underrepresented, undervalued, and unappreciated…and you are furthering their shared oppression, whether that’s your intention or not.
“Rights” are centered in equality, and we need to trend towards equity and justice. Equality attempts to place us on equal footing with that of the dominant group/members because they are looked upon at having the best of the lives that we all deserve. But people don’t actually realize that our current power structures are designed in a way that our most privileged exist because they have to draw their power and resources from other groups. So “rights” based movements look to white, straight, male authority as the liberating factor for our progression, but their power comes from others…meaning if we were to actually reach their “level,” our power would have to come from another as well. This should never be the goal.
“Rights” favor those who do not look like me, who don’t live life like me.
I can’t know liberation operating within structures whose operational definitions favor whiteness.
“Justice. Disability Justice. That is what we need to work towards. Disability Justice forces you to look deeply at disability, racism, sexism, etc. and how it interacts with other forms of oppression.”
Terminology matters. Language matters. I can tell who is for me, who is working on my behalf, and what their intentions are, from the language they choose to use in this work. When you are a member of a marginalized group, you are so locked into the language used to describe who you are, because it isn’t just descriptive, it’s prescriptive. A guideline for how society will treat us. A manual for what society plans to do with us.
Being a member of an oppressed group means that these “by the book” definitions and ultimately, activism will favor the majority and their responses to any discrimination we may face will be looked at through the lens of their experiences, not ours.
In conclusion, I don’t trust the social model and I don’t trust “disability rights” activists. What’s frustrating is that they often go hand in hand. I can’t afford to put my trust into systems, models, movements, etc. that don’t address the needs of every member of its group. I don’t like the idea of even just a few people being left out of the conversation. This is people we are talking about, “good enough for most” is not good enough at all.
I need you as a Disability Activist to stop and think about exactly what it is you are doing. What are you fighting for? Who are you fighting for? This isn’t slight work. This is whole mind work. Whole body work. You don’t do this work in passing. This is a commitment. You need to make sure you are doing it right.
Or step aside.
Go Back to Issue 18 Home
Read more articles on the Black autistic experience beyond the hashtags in Issue 18 of Zoom Autism Magazine.
- Why are Black Disabled Activists Being Ignored or Forgotten? by Anita Cameron
- Autistic While Black and the Case of Matthew Rushin – #FreeMatthewRushin
- We Believe…In the Right to Exist by Elizabeth Roy
- Why the Social Model Will Not Save Us and “Disability Rights” Aren’t Intersectional by Tiffany Hammond
- What Does it Mean to Feel Safe? Intro by Rose Sutton
In Every Issue
- Editor Letter – Black Autistic Lives Matter: Beyond the Hashtags by Elizabeth Roy
- Cummings and Goings: Working Together to Fix the System by Conner Cummings
- 5 Must-Read Books by Black Autistic Authors by Adriana White
- THE VIEW FROM HERE: “I am Just Going to Be Me” by Jasmine Sutton with an update from Daniel Derrico
Discover More Zoom Issues
- Archived issues on the Zoom Home Page