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The mantra “nothing about us, without us” echoes through the streets and hallways of disability liberation movements around the world. Of course, the “us” brought into view here is neither consolidated nor all-encompassing. Like non-disabled folk, disabled communities negotiate a multiplicity of politicized identities, socioeconomic locations, and embodied experiences simultaneously. While it may seem rather self-evident to foreground the ways in which disability does not operate in isolation, the fact remains that disabled people are often denied complex articulations of personhood and identity.
Even then, personhood itself is something that still elides the body inscribed within disability. Disabled folk continue to be reduced to dehumanizing tropes that are deeply rooted in ableist relations of being and knowing. On the whole, disabled people are systematically rendered as an afterthought in or erased entirely from discourses and practices that purport to advance human dignity, despite the fact that disabled people, particularly queer disabled women and gender-variant people of color, are among the poorest and most disenfranchised segments of society.
If dominant conceptions of humanness hinge upon normative bodily capacities and ableist notions of cognition, then what does human dignity mean when brought into the purview of disability? What does “nothing about us, without us” really offer disabled people? What does it mean to think through disability as a (feminist) political project and epistemological question but not think about the everyday lives and embodied experiences of disabled people?
Over the next few days, this forum will consider and attempt to answer or, at least, to problematize these and other questions. Our editorial point of departure is to center disabled people in conversations–specifically in feminist and anti-racist conversations–pertaining to liberation and justice. Thinking through disability is not enough to challenge ableism, just as thinking through the category of “women” is not enough to challenge patriarchy. Disability, like feminism, must be deployed as a mode of thinking, as a way of doing analysis.
This is what it means to truly center and validate the lives of disabled people.