Disability is a social construct wherein the physical and mental differences of some people are stigmatized, othered, and marginalized. People are rendered disabled by society’s refusal to include them in the economic, social, familial, and political life of the community through a variety of processes that refuse to acknowledge the diversity of human experience. We recognize that disabled people have been at the forefront of their own liberation. Disabled people have fought to end sterilization and euthanasia practices which targeted many disabled people well into the 20th century. Deaf people have fought against eugenicist oral only policies which attempted to eradicate sign language in an effort to normalize them. Disabled workers have organized themselves in various organizations to fight against job discrimination and pay inequity. Along with fights to end the isolation of institutionalization, disabled people have come together across their differences to end housing discrimination while also fighting for public accommodations. At the center of these struggles is the impulse for bodily autonomy and the freedom of disabled people to determine their own collective future.
The systemic oppression of many social groups have been built on the notion that the exclusion of the disabled is necessary. Historically queer people were categorized as mentally ill by the DSM, a categorization that is still applied to trans people. This is just one manifestation of the way in which notions of disability underpin other forms of oppression. Nineteenth century discussions of why women and Black people should have equal rights frequently centered around whether these people were the mental and physical equals of their white male contemporaries. Similarly, immigration restrictions were highly concerned with barring physically and mentally “defective” people to preserve the eugenic stock of the nation, an argument that supported nativist demands to restrict immigrants from countries determined to be more likely to have these “defectives.” Unfortunately, when disability has been used to bar the full participation in society by different groups, these people have often responded by asserting that they are not disabled, tacitly throwing people with disabilities under the bus.
Capitalism and war are great producers of disabled people historically. While war intends to kill and maim, capitalism simply regards workplace safety as an impediment to profitable production. In a society that puts undue faith in the myth of individual, people rendered unproductive by their work are then chastised by society for being unable to fend for themselves. Similarly, soldiers fighting imperialist wars come home with physical and mental disabilities that are manipulated by warmongers when convenient, but otherwise forgotten by society. While many people become disabled through work and war, many others are born with their disability and face similar challenges in finding employment due to social conceptions about the inability of disabled people to work or the unwillingness of capitalists to accommodate the differences within the working class.
People fighting for disability justice can not ignore the ways in which disability is fundamentally tied to broader, interlocking systems of oppression. While we encourage militants to actively engage in disability movements locally in order to encourage them in a libertarian direction, we also seek to integrate disability justice into our workplace and community engagements. Accommodating the physical and mental differences of those in social movements is necessary, but it can not be understood as the goal. Inclusion is important, but we must also integrate notions of disability justice into our work. The rampant police murders of people of color in this country are further complicated by the fact that nearly half of those murdered are disabled. We believe that a thorough understanding of disability can help us unite disparate movements around common oppression. For disability to become a meaningful social category, we must move from including it in lists to including it in our understanding of society and contemporary social struggle.