What is Disability Justice?

During the 2020-2021 school year, CODE worked to implement the principles of “disability justice” into our new leadership structure. Our Commission has shifted away from treating disability as a single-issue concern, and towards a vision where we hope to engage in cross-movement solidarity in our community-building and self-advocacy efforts.

Learn more from Sophia’s discussion of the 10 principles of Disability Justice by Sins Invalid:

Read the full transcript here

“A Disability Justice framework understands that all bodies are unique and essential, that all bodies have strengths and needs that must be met.”

Patty Berne

In 2005, disabled activists of color Patty Berne, Mia Mingus, and Stacey Milbern launched the framework of “disability justice.” They did this to expand upon the “disability rights” movement, which established civil rights for people with disabilities.

While the disability rights movement did have “many successes in advancing a philosophy of independent living and opening possibilities for people with disabilities,” by only considering “ableism” as a single issue, the lives of sick and disabled people of color (SDQTPOC) were “invisibilized.” This means that the voices, perspectives, and contributions of SDQTPOC were often erased.

So, while some people in the disability community can achieve rights and access through a legal or rights-based framework, this privilege is not always available to all members of the disability community, specifically SDQTPOC.

“We understand that all bodies are caught in these bindings of ability, race, gender, sexuality, class, nation state and imperialism, and that we cannot separate them” 

Patty Berne

The disability justice framework calls attention to the ways that ableism is linked to multiple other systems of oppression. This centers on the needs and voices of “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.”

To help guide activists in forming a broad-based popular movement, where ableism can be dismantled alongside other systems of oppression, the activists and artists of Sins Invalid developed the “10 Principles of Disability Justice.”

  1. Intersectionality
  2. Leadership of Those Most Impacted
  3. Anti-Capitalist Politics
  4. Commitment to Cross-Movement Organizing
  5. Recognizing Wholeness
  6. Sustainability
  7. Commitment to Cross-Disability Solidarity
  8. Interdependence
  9. Collective Access
  10. Collective Liberation

Click the following link to learn more about each of these principles, and how they apply to CODE: The 10 Principles of Disability Justice

This page was adapted from “Disability Justice – a working draft by Patty Berne.”

To read the full essay, click the following link: https://www.sinsinvalid.org/blog/disability-justice-a-working-draft-by-patty-berne

If you’re interested in engaging in Disability Justice praxis (the act of engaging, applying, exercising, realizing, or practicing ideas), see our Accessibility Guides page.

Related Online Educational Resources

  • Lydia X. Z. Brown’s Autistic Hoya primer, a webpage that consolidates links to various topics related to disability justice
  • Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s “Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice” book, which they narrate on Audible. The organization Radical In Progress has curated a free online study guide summarizing the same book
  • The Disability Visibility Project, which produced a podcast hosted by Alice Wong, “featuring conversations on politics, culture, and media with disabled people”

Also, consider purchasing the recently released Second Edition of Skin, Tooth, and Bone: The Basis of Movement is Our People, a Disability Justice Primer, found here: https://www.sinsinvalid.org/disability-justice-primer

Additional Readings and Resources

Disability in Arts and EDUCATION Disability Justice PRAXIS


Intersections: Disability & Environmental Justice: A collaborative working group presented by the Environmental Justice Alliance (EJA) and CODE (February 2022)

Our Climate Voices: In Conversation: An Episode on Disability Justice with Transcript

Disability and Philanthropy Forum: Connections Between Climate Change and Disability


The New Yorker: When the World Isn’t Designed for Our Bodies, written by Katy Waldman

The New Yorker: Who Is “Worthy”? Deaf-Blind People Fear That Doctors Won’t Save Them from the Coronavirus, written by Robin Wright