Workshop Wednesday: Dis/Ableism

This is a basic Dis/Ableism 101 visual tool for sighted folks that goes well with the Oppression Triangle tool. The purpose of this poster/handout is to introduce folks to the basic models of how dis/ableism works in North American society, and is based on the work of Mia Mingus and A.J. Withers. For a more in-depth look at the models discussed, please check out A.J. Withers’ book and website on Disability Politics. For an intersectional and deeper look at these models, especially in regards to desirability, the prison industrial complex, and the medical industrial complex, please check out Mia Mingus’s Medical Industrial Complex Visual.

Activity Idea

  • Divide the group into the following categories of interest: accomplices/allies, direct action, policy, and programming. These categories are fluid– if there is no one interested in policy, for example, then that doesn’t have to be a group. If a group is interested in something not listed, like, for example, transformative justice or healing justice, then they can create a group for that. These are all types of anti-oppression/liberation strategies, which will be explained further in future posts.
  • Ask each group to choose one of the dis/ableism models to work with and narrow it down to one of the levels of oppression, if possible. They can also choose an example of oppression that is under multiple models, such as certain nursing/group homes can be considered both under the charity model and the security model.
  • Each group can come up with a way to use their anti-oppression/liberation strategy with the example of dis/ableist oppression they chose. For example, the direct action group can explain or act out how they could stage a protest at a pharmaceutical company that is lobbying doctors or at a group home that forces medicalization. Another example could be the accomplices/allies group creating a poster that explains other words to use instead of dis/ableist slurs. A final example could be a non-profit organization that is also a registered charity writing a disability justice policy that explicitly ensures that a certain percentage of their budget is used for accessibility and the benefit of disabled people, with a communications plan that makes these policies transparent to the public.
  • Have the groups present to each other and debrief about the process of anti-oppressive collective planning. Did they ensure that any disabled folks in the groups lead? Did they ensure that consultation and leadership of disabled folks was at the forefront of any of their strategies, even if there were no disabled folks in their group?

Poster Description

The poster is pale blue with mostly dark grey font. At the top of the poster is written ““. The title of the poster is “DIS/ABLEISM: A.K.A. how modern day capitalism considers people disposable and only as valuable as what they produce”. The poster is credited as “BASED ON THE WORK OF MIA MINGUS AND A.J. WITHERS”. After the title, there are five columns and five rows.

The first row in the first column has the words: “MODEL”. The second row in the first column reads: “The oppressive “logic” used to justify violence, exclusion, exploitation, and negative messaging”. The third row in the first column reads: “Example(s) of Institutional Level of Oppression”. The fourth row in the first column reads: “Example(s) of Cultural Level of Oppression”. The fifth and final row in the first column reads: “Example(s) of Individual Level of Oppression”.

The second column is headed by the term “Eugenics”. The logic is “Ensuring “deviant” people never exist or erasing/destroying their lives”. The institutional examples are “Genetic manipulation; forced sterilization.” The cultural examples are “Suicidality and physical / sexual assault towards disabled people”. The individual examples are “Only seen as inspiration or tragedy; slurs: lame, retard, dumb, cripple, derp, moron, stupid, idiot, spaz, barren, etc.”.

The third column is headed by the term “Medical”. The logic is “Fixing people who are “broken””. The institutional example is “Big Pharma companies paying off doctors”. The cultural example is “Over-reliance on pills to solve problems”. The individual examples are “Lack of support if you don’t get “fixed” the “normal way”; using OCD or other diagnoses as out-of-context adjectives”.

The fourth column is headed by the term “Security”. The logic is “Controlling people who are “dangerous””. The institutional examples are “Forced medicalization; group/nursing homes”. The cultural example is “Psychiatric survivors not seen as “trustworthy””. The individual examples are “Being refused agency; slurs: wacko, psycho(path), lunatic, loony, schizo, crazy, nuts, insane, etc.”.

The fifth column is headed by the term “Charity”. The logic is “Caretaking people who are “incompetent” like they are property”. The institutional example is “Majority of charity money goes to the non-disabled”. The cultural example is “Extreme dichotomy of helpless / codependent versus strong / independent”. The individual examples are “Being treated like a child; terms like feeble-minded, special needs, being called an invalid, etc.”.

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