Understanding Disability Culture

Disability Culture is not unlike Black Culture in that it is a widely-used concept to capture lifestyle that are caused or promoted by disability, where similarly Black Culture captures lifestyle that is unique to the Black experience. Disability cultures exist as communities of people around topics of disability and shared experiences. Steven Brown, in an academic study, wrote, "The existence of a disability culture is a relatively new and contested idea. Not surprising, perhaps, for a group that has long been described with terms like 'in-valid', 'impaired', 'limited', 'crippled', and so forth. Scholars would be hard-pressed to discover terms of hope, endearment or ability associated with people with disabilities."

Disability culture is a complex blending of community, expression, art and performance. Within this culture, the word "disabled" has been re-purposed to represent a social identity of empowerment and awareness. Its core values as a culture are reflected in art, conversation, goals, or behaviors. These core values often include: "an acceptance of human differences, an acceptance of human vulnerability and interdependence, and a tolerance for a lack of resolution of the unpredictable in life, and a humor to laugh at the oppressor or situation, however dire it may be".

"The elements of our culture include, certainly, our longstanding social oppression, but also our emerging art and humor, our piecing together of our history, our evolving language and symbols, our remarkably unified world view, beliefs and values, and our strategies for surviving and thriving." -Carol Gill Ph.D.

Disability culture is a trajectory, a movement, a path, rather than a destination: "Disability culture is the difference between being alone, isolated, and individuated with a physical, cognitive, emotional or sensory difference that in our society invites discrimination and reinforces that isolation – the difference between all that and being in community. Naming oneself part of a larger group, a social movement or a subject position in modernity can help to focus energy, and to understand that solidarity can be found – precariously, in improvisation, always on the verge of collapse." - Petra Kuppers

"Disability culture, which values interdependence over the illusion of independence, privileges not a uniform perspective but the validity and value of a wide range of ways of moving through the world - and the varied perspectives those different experiences engender." - Jim Ferris