Disability justice dreams of a world where no one gets left behind

How, and why, the Disability Justice Network envisions collective liberation.

Art by Judy Kuo (@judyk__)

Across this settler-colony, disabled people are continuously denied access to the social, emotional, material and medical care that they need to survive. Those of us living with disability are well acquainted with the exorbitant costs of medications, medical appointments, mobility aids, and surgeries, as well as the costs associated with a reduced capacity to work. Disabled people disproportionately live in poverty, making up 38% of all people living under the poverty line across so-called ‘Australia’. This is in part due to the inherently disabling nature of capitalism and settler-colonialism, structures that rely on the dehumanisation and disposal of our bodies and minds. 

Accessing government-based support initiatives, such as the Disability Support Pension (DSP) or the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), is a notoriously exhausting process. Disabled people have consistently spoken out against the inadequate support that the state has to offer, as well as the othering and dehumanising policies and procedures embedded in these schemes. As a result, many disabled people either cannot or choose not to pursue government-led support. This is particularly true for disabled people existing at the intersections of other forms of oppression. 

First Nations peoples are disproportionately targeted and surveilled by the state and denied access to social and material support and generational wealth, a continuation of the colonial violence initiated over two centuries ago following British invasion. This over-policing has also led to the disproportionate incarceration and institutionalisation of First Nations peoples, systems that are not only inherently disabling but made further debilitating by widespread medical racism and a lack of access to adequate medical care. As well, through the ongoing dispossession and decimation of their lands, waters, and skies, connections to cultural knowledge and lore are continually fractured, meaning First Nations peoples are often prevented from practicing and passing down traditional healing practices. 

Despite First Nations peoples being twice as likely to live with a disability, only 5.7% of NDIS participants are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. If these government-led support initiatives aren’t providing essential, culturally appropriate care to the most vulnerable among us, how can we be expected to trust or depend on them?

Instead of attempting to navigate government-based support, many disabled people choose instead to create and strengthen networks of care that are led by their local communities. This autonomous practice of community care is grounded in interdependence and collective liberation, acknowledging that we cannot expect to be loved or liberated under structures that were designed to harm us, that “the state was built on racist, colonialist ableism and will not save us, because it was created to kill us” (in Care Work by Leah Lakshmi Piepznia-Samarasinha). Community care works toward practical steps through which we can materially and emotionally support one another in both the short- and long-term.

Based on these autonomous, anti-capitalist principles, a Disability Justice Network was established across so-called ‘Australia’. This Disability Justice Network was created by both Indigenous and non-Indigenous marginalised disabled people currently located across Ngunnawal and Ngambri, Wurundjeri, Bunurong, Gadigal and Kaurna lands. Our intentions in creating this network were to share a space, organise, provide mutual aid, care for, love and grieve with one another.

One of the first actions of the Disability Justice Network was initiating an ongoing mutual aid fund. This fund was first created in response to a disabled Aboriginal community member who urgently required life-saving surgery. The initial target was reached within a day. Three months later, the mutual aid fund has accumulated over $14,000, almost all of which has been distributed to disabled people across our communities requiring help with medical and other living costs.

This ongoing mutual aid fund is part of a larger and longer process of collective care that the Disability Justice Network is committed to undertaking. Recognising the ways in which the state restricts our movements, our relationship-building and our sustenance, the Disability Justice Network intends to build a network of care that centres “disabled people of color, immigrants with disabilities, queers with disabilities, trans and gender non-conforming people with disabilities, people with disabilities who are houseless, people with disabilities who are incarcerated, people with disabilities who have had their ancestral lands stolen, amongst others.”

Grounded in cross-movement solidarity, our work will continue to dream toward and fight for a world of collective liberation, where we are all free and able to receive the care, love and support that we need, and where nobody gets left behind.