I work as a nondisabled woman in disability studies, but seeming identity binaries are never that simple. DS first made sense to me twenty years ago as a fat woman who understood the connection between fat shaming and ableism. But if I came to DS for the connection, I stayed because of so much more: the solidarity and the subversion, the crip culture and the creativity. During the time in which I have been immersed in DS through scholarship, teaching, curating, and more than one crip coze over drinks, I have found DS repeatedly guides me toward revelations that cause me astonishment and anger, delight and determination. Here is my sense of the purpose of our field:
- To remain a model of capacious inclusivity. I keep thinking about the SDS dance as a visual metaphor for DS: the intermingling of embodiments, experiences, and exuberance beyond exclusionary or monolithic kinds of identification. The home and welcome that is DS is a direct retort to the hegemony of normalcy against which we fight daily.
- To create disability visibility. This happens in so many ways: rewriting history, questioning representational systems, giving voice to experiences once ignored or erased. This establishes culture and community, and every paper, presentation, artwork, and action accrues toward grounding those things solidly in the greater world. We also make disability visible as a concept – for example, think how transformational it has been to the field to think about disability as an aesthetic, musicological, or narratological concept.
- To nurture empathy and creativity. The empathy produced in our work begets the reimagining of social ritual, design, and cultural representation. We may not write policy, but our work intervenes into the material fates of bodies, even if that change is not always immediately apparent.
We're not above criticism: our erasure of bodies of color, reinforcing hierarchies, policing points of view, and moments of careerism over coalition. We need to resist appropriation by others who see DS as the hot new critical apparatus that they wield with more self-interest than sense. And we must connect more, as Julie Avril Minich suggested in her 2016 essay "Enabling Whom? Critical Disability Studies Now," to those whose methodologies align with ours. For example, I have collaborated with a microbiologist doing social justice work on HIV/AIDS and comic artists creating graphic medicine in order to bring patient and medical practitioner narratives to life. None of them claimed to be doing DS work, but they were utterly committed to the fight against stigma and the recognition of disability as a social and lived identity. We must challenge our own presumptions. Roxane Gay models this in her memoir Hunger when, in praising the fat pride movement, she also points out that it still needs to make room for bodies as unruly as hers – and her own unease with her size. We need to examine which received ideas we can reconsider in order to truly make DS critical in all senses of the word: ever thoughtful, ever instructive, ever essential. In this particularly perilous historical moment, we must be—we are—more critical than ever.