What I Mean When I Say ‘The Future Is Disabled’

At the core of my work and life is the belief that disabled wisdom is the key to our survival and expansion. Crip genius is what will keep us all alive and bring us home to the just and survivable future we all need. If we have a chance in hell of getting there.

Yet a major way ableism works is to erase us from ideas of the future. The science fiction future, sure, but also the everyday future of having any idea of what a disabled adulthood or elderhood could look like. Ableism isolates and keeps disabled, Deaf and neurodivergent people from finding disabled, Deaf and neurodivergent communities. It’s common for parents or teachers to tell some dis- abled children they’re “not like the others,” for parents of autistic, Deaf or disabled kids to deny our identities. Sometimes, especially for BIPOC people, this can be the best survival strategy we know, but being kept from each other also kills. Most people still draw a blank when you say the words “disabled community”—like, what is that? Autistic and disabled special-ed student Cole Sorensen says, “Until I started college, I had never met an adult who was like me. I had other disabled friends, sure, but with no model of what my life could look like after graduation, I couldn’t imagine much of a future for myself at all.”6

This is why I believe some of disability justice’s most import- ant work lies in how we’ve created space for BIPOC people (and, secondarily, Others) to identify as disabled, chronically ill, Deaf or neurodivergent, through our creation of Black- and brown- centered disabled, sick, Deaf and neurodivergent communities and politics. Community building isn’t always seen as “real activism” (whatever) but the work we do to create disabled Black and brown community spaces, online forums, hashtags, and artwork is lifesaving because it creates space for disabled BIPOC to come out as disabled. I mean big organized spaces, parties, and cultural events, and I also mean the disabled BIPOC version of “Hey, do you want some of my fries?”: one disabled BIPOC person being friendly and Initiating Hangout Space with another, who might not be ready to be out yet. It’s very difficult to organize for survival, power, and pleasure when people can’t even admit they go to this school, you know?

Disability justice (DJ) spaces filled with disabled Black and brown people are crucial spaces for disabled, sick, Deaf, and neurodivergent BIPOC people to witness possible futures for ourselves, as we take in other Black and brown disabled people as possibility models and friends. I could do it like that. I could have a life like that. I could expect my access needs be met like that. I could just say, “Hey, I need a chair or captions,” easy like that. I could be disabled like that.

Many Black and brown disabled people have been gate-kept from claiming disabilities and excluded from mainstream disabled spaces for years by blatant and covert racism perpetuated by white disabled people and/or by the idea, Yeah, I know about that group but they’re all white people, making it not safe or not worth the risk to go through the door. I’ve witnessed a fair bit of resentment and anger over the past decade from white disabled groups/people at the success of disability justice groups to attract masses of disabled BIPOC and ally BIPOC people. White- majority and -lead disabled groups’ racism and lack of intersectional analysis and leadership, in tandem with the general ableism of the world, prevented that kind of community buy-in for decades. I didn’t make the rules, though, and it’s just a fact that racism is an impediment to movement-building and activist wins.

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