At first glance, disability studies is a field employing a wide range of methods, approaches, and disciplines. The field resists a singular description given its versatility and sheer scope across time, geographies, subjects, and methodologies. The shared characteristic is the attention on the notion of disability as either experience or representation. The field has evolved to produce Crip Studies/theory, a critical lens that challenges norms and through which we understand disability as a social dynamic of power in how society relates to bodily difference. This now begs the question: what distinguishes Disability Studies from Critical Disability Studies?
The former writes about disability and the latter writes about the interaction between ideas, the body, and society. There is overlap but the distinction is defining Critical Disability Studies as activist oriented. Critical Disability Studies acknowledges internalized oppression, critiques inequities, and provides us with frameworks and tools to challenge able-minded and -bodied normativity.
The purpose of our field, then, to dismantle systems in place that allows society to perpetuate inequities upon disabled people because of differences of body and/or mind. Using disability studies and theories allows us another means of challenging capitalist systems and valuation placed upon bodies. Crip theory speaks to Disability Studies scholars, urging us to reject the idea of disability as a pejorative term, as an undesirable state of being, or hierarchize disability. Disability Studies is not free of the politic where some disabilities are deemed more desirable than others or claimed as a wonder of culture (e.g. Deaf) while judging other disabilities as deserving of pity and scorn, appropriately relegated to the backwaters of society. Crip theory moves us toward a Critical Disability Studies where we work as a coalition for disability justice by expanding our understanding of how ableism leads us to internalized oppression, in-fighting, and distracts us by turning us upon each other rather than focus our energies on dismantling institutions and systems that perpetuates ableism.
Critical Disability Studies gives us a means to agitate for inclusion, calls us to dismantle all hierarchies through a better understanding of intersectionality, and understand ourselves in relation to others. But in speaking to our purpose as a critical studies field, we must also critique ourselves as scholars. Are we intersectional in our approach to our subject? Do we treat our subjects as monoliths in broad, sweeping strokes or do we consider nuance? When we write, are we accessible to a broad audience, including those we write about or do we only speak to each other? Are we appropriating the new, hot field of disability studies for professional and academic success without critiquing our own positionality, privileges, and attitudes about disability other than our own (if any)?
The haphazard lumping of everything that even touches upon disability or anything related to disability (e.g. language and material culture) into the discipline of Disability Studies calls for the need for a distinct critical Disability Studies. Critical Disability Studies demands the centering of disabled people, while critiquing ones' own positionality and privileges. The former writes about disability, the latter engages with disability and disabled people.