What is Disability Justice?

Leaders with disabilities gather at an ADA 25 Advancing Leadership event.

In this resource, you’ll learn about the origin and definition of disability justice as a movement and framework.

What does “Disability Justice” mean?

Disability Justice centers intersectionality and the ways diverse systems of oppression amplify and reinforce one another.

The term “disability justice” is often used interchangeably with terms such as “disability rights” and “disability inclusion.” Yet it’s important to recognize that “disability justice” refers to a very specific framework of thinking about disability.

Disability inclusion is a broad term to describe approaches to advance access and inclusion for disabled people. A disability justice approach centers the priorities and approaches of those most historically excluded groups, such as women, people of color, immigrants, and people who identify as LGBTQ+.

The Origin of Disability Justice

As explained by Patty Berne, the Co-Founder, Executive and Artistic Director of Sins Invalid and one of the people whose work and words informed the conceptualization of disability justice, the framework was a reaction to the ways that the US disability rights movement “invisibilized the lives of peoples who lived at intersecting junctures of oppression – disabled people of color, immigrants with disabilities, queers with disabilities, trans and gender non-conforming people with disabilities, people with disabilities who are houseless, people with disabilities who are incarcerated, people with disabilities who have had their ancestral lands stolen, amongst others.”

Click here to read Berne’s piece on disability justice and its 10 principles.

Defining Disability Justice – “an expectation of difference”

As set forth by Naomi Ortiz, a writer, poet, facilitator and visual artist whose work focuses on self-care for activists, “Disability Justice is the cross-disability (sensory, intellectual, mental health/psychiatric, neurodiversity, physical/mobility, learning, etc.) framework that values access, self-determination and an expectation of difference. An expectation of difference means that we expect difference in disability, identity and culture. To be included and part of society is about being able to be our “whole self” (all of our identities together). Disability Justice includes space for self-care, reflection and hard discussions.”

Click here to read the full definition of disability justice.

Disability Justice and Interdependence

Writer, educator and community organizer for disability justice Mia Mingus explains: “With disability justice, we want to move away from the ‘myth of independence,’ that everyone can and should be able to do everything on their own. I am not fighting for independence, as much of the disability rights movement rallies behind. I am fighting for an interdependence that embraces need and tells the truth: no one does it on their own and the myth of independence is just that, a myth.”

Click here to read Mingus’ piece on the values of the disability justice framework.

Disability Justice and Other Justice Movements

Disability justice connects with all other key movements for justice and liberation from oppression. For example, Standing Up for Racial Justice, a national network of groups and individuals working to undermine white supremacy and to work toward racial justice, shares: “We want to create a movement for racial justice that not only pushes back against disability stereotypes of tragedy, inspiration or irresponsible burden but that also fiercely resists the powerful undercurrents about the ‘feebleminded’, the illiterate or accented people of our lives. These ideas, birthed in ableism, grease the cogs of white supremacy and perpetuate white privilege.”

Click here to read their full statement on disability justice and racial justice.

Further Learning

Disability Justice Curriculum