Creating Equitable Spaces

I learned so much from this session and realize how much work I personally, as well as the institutions and organizations I’m part of, have to do so that disability justice becomes “the norm and not the niche,” as panelist Patrice Strahan put it. Especially coming from the public health sector, disabled people are all too often seen in the category of “vulnerable communities” and recipients or clients of health and social services, not as leaders at the cutting edge of critiquing and transforming our society’s current dehumanizing system.

People have inherent worth outside of commodity relations and capitalist notions of productivity. Each person is full of history and life experience — this principle of the 10 Principles of Disability Justice really hit home for me, especially after getting to witness the creative brilliance of disabled artists like Maysoon Zayid or choreographer Christopher Unpezverde Núñez, actor Christine Bruno, and Patrice Strahan of Disability Justice Culture Club Collective.

I think about what belly laughs, what beautiful creations and cultural innovations we disregard, leave behind, and miss out on when we as a society fail to see and support disabled artists. Then there’s also the hidden and devalued labor of those at the margins that end up eventually benefiting all of society. In this case, there’s the well-used example of curb cuts on sidewalks, but also the decades-long fight of disability activists for accessible and remote work options—which it turns out we all need now.

Panelists in this session challenged everyone to embrace the idea of “nothing without us,” making sure that disabled people have a seat at every table whether or not the conversation is explicitly about disability issues, because of course, “all of this is about us,” as Patrice said. “It should be the norm, not the niche. And the fact that it’s not the norm, shows how problematic societies are. It’s not this niche issue I can start doing when applicable. It’s always applicable and has always been.”

If this seems overwhelming and daunting, Christine, Christopher and Patrice all offered concrete ways to start and take steps for ensuring equitable space and equitable practice:

  • Support more funding opportunities for disabled artists. Have an internal conversation, and ask are we providing specific funding streams to support disabled artists?
  • Populate grant panels with artists from all communities
  • Review and revamp your website to be accessible including universal symbols of accessibility
  • Reimagine selection processes for funding, fellowships, and residencies so that they are fair for everybody, including considering technology access and making sure there are multiple entry points
  • Authentic relationship building, increasing visibility and empowerment in collaborating with disabled-led organizations. Follow their lead and compensate people for their work. Reach out and support them, help empower their efforts