Does Disability Studies need to provide useful connections and research to disability communities? If so, then an immediate and specific plan for enlisting and retaining community scholars* is required.
As one early Disability Studies effort, the Society for Disability Studies (SDS) included specific practices to ensure institutional connections between academic and community scholars including holding alternating meetings in Washington, D.C. to ensure connections to public policies related to disabled people as well as building bridges between academic and policy experts.
For decades the Society for Disability Studies annual meetings served as the central location for exchanges between community and academic scholars. Over the past three decades, community and academic scholars collaborated to provide many important preconference trainings from one-day sessions on disabled women to the multi-day 2002 Queer Disability conference.
Outside of the annual SDS meetings, collaborations between academic and community scholars were very limited. The loss of this annual conference has in many ways defined the ending of these important collaborations.
Particularly over the last decade, academic scholars have increasingly chosen to gather without community scholars. We watched with increasing alarm as various Disability Studies subfields divorced themselves from our disability communities. As avenues for participation in Disability Studies have dwindled, community scholars created vibrant and growing online locations for sharing our research.
Unlike Disability Studies, the disability community scholarship is often highly intersectional working across a diverse spectrum of disabilities and often providing the only opportunities for disabled community scholars of color to be published.
After 30 years in Disability Studies I grieve at this shift. Disability communities do not need more academic pontification from academic scholars. Disability communities are in dire need of useful scholarship that can help us articulate critical issues, develop new ideas, and quantify community experiences in order to drive both conversations and policies.
The ongoing and entrenched barriers facing community scholars within disability studies include: economic barriers to participation, structures that prioritize nondisabled people or people with the least impairing disabilities, an embedded and unacknowledged focus on white people, and a refusal to provide economic compensation for the contributions of community scholars.
Community scholars continue to create work that reflects concerns emanating from disability communities and sharing it through disability friendly networks. Disability Studies' decisions to lose these valuable resources limit their fields as they become increasingly irrelevant to the disability communities they purport to represent.
Without disability community scholars Disability Studies becomes just another discipline that is "about us, without us."
* For this submission, "community scholars" means scholars who are not officially affiliated with academic institutions and who are embedded inside disability communities.