By Jeremy Einbinder
The Disability Rights Movement has been fighting for the rights and inclusion of people with disabilities for a long time, making it an important part of history, as it pertains to activism. Despite the progress made by the Disability Rights Movement, there is still a long way to go in terms of achieving true equality and inclusion for people with disabilities. Many people with disabilities still face barriers to access and participation in various aspects of society, including education, employment, housing, transportation, and healthcare. A phrase which has gained traction in the Disability Rights Movement is “Nothing About Us Without Us.” It is a helpful, but ultimately, suboptimal message.
The “Nothing About Us Without Us” principle highlights the need for people with disabilities to be included in decision-making processes that affect their lives. However, it is evident that the slogan represents an insufficient idea of liberation. Everything affects our lives because we are people. Nothing should happen in society without us in mind.
Many people with disabilities still face barriers to access and participation in various aspects of society, including education, employment, housing, transportation, and healthcare. The “Nothing About Us Without Us” principle highlights the need for people with disabilities to be included in decision-making processes that affect their lives. Because we are left out of so much, it is often assumed that there are things in which our perspective is irrelevant. This is patently false.
As the Council so often emphasizes, people with disabilities need full collective self-determination of social life. This means that the able-bodied and neurotypical public needs to consult with the various disability communities and listen to the perspectives of people with disabilities when making policy and other decisions. This is especially true with regards to architecture, urban planning, civil engineering, mass transit, and fair access to vocational opportunities, and places of public accommodation. It is also imperative that educational methods and media representation are produced with our perspectives at top of mind.
Neurologist and writer Oliver Sacks once wrote, “I wish for a world that views disability, mental or physical, not as a hindrance but as unique attributes that can be seen as powerful assets if given the right opportunities.”
We are everywhere, but we are not truly seen. The World Health Organization estimates that more than 1.3 billion people – about 15% to 20% of the global population – currently experience disability. Together with friends and family, this group has a spending power of $13 trillion. Despite this, only 4% of businesses are focused on making offerings inclusive of disabled people. The International Labour Organisation estimates that the cost of disability exclusion can be up to 7% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of countries that are members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation (OECD). This shows the importance of including disabled people in all aspects of society, not just in certain areas. However, it is just as important, if not more important to note that the value of the lives of people with disabilities does not lie in our ability to contribute to the GDP of any economy. We are shut out of vocational opportunities in this world, which is bad, but that doesn’t mean we should be satisfied merely with being able to demonstrate our ability to generate surplus value for prospective employers. We need to go beyond that.
In order to truly achieve equality and inclusion for people with disabilities, it is crucial that this principle is followed and that people with disabilities are included in all aspects of decision-making. This includes involving them in the development of policies and programs that affect their lives, as well as ensuring that their voices are heard and considered in all decision-making processes. When access rights clash with the seemingly sacrosanct right of the owners of capital to private property, access rights must win out. In order to truly achieve equality and inclusion for people with disabilities, it is crucial that this principle is followed and that people with disabilities are included in all aspects of decision-making. This includes involving them in the development of policies and programs that affect their lives, as well as ensuring that their voices are heard and considered in all decision-making processes.
At a certain point, it would start to feel to the larger non-disabled public that we are demanding that society cater to us, and in a way, we are. But here’s an important point that those complaining will probably forget: Nothing we do will, or ever possibly could disadvantage non-disabled people.
It is crucial to recognize and challenge the ableist attitudes and discrimination that still exist in society. This includes addressing issues such as inaccessible buildings and transportation, lack of accommodations in education and employment, and unequal access to healthcare and other services. Therefore, we must go much further in our push for inclusion and total accepted of disabled people in all aspects of life.
For instance, there needs to be more accessible public transportation options, such as accessible buses and trains with designated spaces and ramps for wheelchairs. In addition, buildings and public spaces need to be properly designed and equipped with ramps, elevators, and other accommodations for people with disabilities.
In the education system, there needs to be more accommodations and support provided for students with disabilities, such as specialized education programs and assistive technology. In fact, all potential accommodations made possible with the consultation of students with disabilities need to be universally available to all students. Any potential accommodation can only be received in so many ways. An accommodation can either be sufficiently helpful, insufficiently helpful, practically useless, or counterproductive. An accommodation that anyone uses that proves to be the first type will continue to benefit from it, whether it is proven to be an absolute necessity or not. An accommodation that is the second type can be adjusted until it becomes appropriately useful to each individual student, and any new accommodations can be conceived of at any time. A potential accommodation that proves to be practically useless or counterproductive is one that a student will stop using. In order to truly emphasize the importance of universal support, education must be treated as both an area of robust innovation and an all-encompassing public good. Since education must be ensured as both a free creative pursuit and a universal right for all people, private schools must be abolished. A tuition fee is a barrier to entry like any other. Any universally accessible education system that includes people with disabilities must do away with them.
In the workplace, companies need to be more inclusive and provide accommodations and support for workers with disabilities. This can best be achieved through direct and total collective workers’ control of all industry. A particular emphasis on the perspectives of disabled workers on topics which revolve around accessibility, such as user experience and product design. They also need to be consulted in areas such as customer service, recreation, and retail. All decisions will be best made collectively by the workers of the respective industries, along with their consumers, and the surrounding community at large, including people of any cultural background. Since we could be anywhere, that will surely include people with a variety of disabilities, and thus a variety of perspectives to offer. We can safely assume that what is helpful to a physically disabled or neurodivergent person can always be potentially helpful to everyone else. There is no such thing as being “too accessible” in this regard. For maximum inclusion and equality, the distinctions between labor and management, those between administrative and non-administrative functions, and those between employees and employers, would have to be dissolved. Such extensive collective input is necessary for attainment of goods and services to be fully accessible.
Furthermore, healthcare services need to be more accessible and inclusive for people with disabilities, such as providing interpreter services for individuals with hearing impairments and accessible medical equipment for individuals with mobility impairments. All healthcare services, including treatments and medication must be made free at the point of service for every single person, whether they have disabilities or not. All mobility devices and other medical equipment must be made free at the point of consumption.
But perhaps the most drastic and most visible change with the most drastic effects would come in the form of changes to urban planning. For optimum accessibility, entire neighborhoods would need to be rebuilt. The fact is, anyone has the potential to become either temporarily or permanently disabled. That is inescapable. In order to create the most inclusive and welcoming societies possible, we need to create environments in which people with all different things currently classified as disabilities can thrive. Critically, we need to create environments in which we can thrive among the general population, any of whom, at any point, could “join” the disability community. Universal support for all people is vital.
For this to work, assisted living services, direct support professionals, and on-call home-healthcare should be available at all housing complexes. Single-family homes and townhouses would need to be nearby enough that those residences could access the very same comprehensive services as the population centers that are present on campuses. All neighborhoods should be fully accessible and pedestrian friendly, designed with the amenities resembling both that of a college campus, and a retirement community. With such an arrangement, both educational and recreational activities for people of all ages, and families in all forms, will always be available.
Overall, it is crucial to continue to push for progress and inclusion for people with disabilities in all aspects of society. The “Nothing About Us Without Us” principle is an important reminder that people with disabilities must be included in decisions that affect them. But too little affects us because we’re left out of so much. The phrase “Nothing About Us Without Us” places emphasis on the involvement and inclusion of disabled people in decisions that affect their lives. While this is important, it is not enough, especially not in a class society.
At the start of the modern disability rights movement of the 1970s, a large group of disability rights activists occupied a federal building in order to compel the US government to enforce disability rights legislation that was colloquially known as Section 504. This was detailed in the Netflix documentary, “Crip Camp.”
During the occupation in San Francisco, a branch of the Black Panther Party, a staunchly socialist organization, showed up to assist in providing food and medicine to the dedicated group of activists with various disabilities. When some of the disability activists were perplexed as to why a group that advertises itself as a group fighting for racial equality would care about their fight, some of the Panthers ensured them that they shared a similar vision for a better world, and that they had a common struggle. The panthers argued that capitalism was not just or equitable for all different kinds of marginalized people, including black people, poor people of all races, and disabled people. They thought that in order to truly achieve equity and inclusion, a new system was needed instead. One notable member of the group of disability rights activists was Brad Lomax, who was also a member of the Black Panther Party. Lomax was not shy about fighting for the rights of Black people, poor people, and disabled people, all at the same time. Evidently, neither were the rest of the Panthers, who displayed an impressive show of mutual solidarity with scores of disability activists who were doing the same thing they were: fighting for recognition and equality.
The battle cry of “Nothing Without Us!” would make it abundantly clear that disabled people are not just a subset of the population who needs to be included in certain decisions, but rather, we are integral and necessary members of society. Our experiences, perspectives, and contributions are valuable and should be considered in all aspects of decision-making and policy development, and should be considered fully capable among the working masses to shape their own collective livelihoods over the owners of capital, and the so-called anarchy of market production. In other words, it is not optimum to merely guess at what the public might need before making it available. The responsible thing for companies to do would be to ask. When it comes to disabled people specifically, we are not a profitable demographic. Helping us to the extent we all truly need it would be a financial loss to companies, as they currently exist.
The working masses, with specialized input from their peers with disabilities and other historically disadvantaged groups, would therefore do best to take control of all industry, production, distribution, and administration.
It is time that we embrace the mantra of “Nothing without us!” Making minor tweaks to the systems that keep us trapped can only take us so far.