Definitions of Disability Culture

People with disabilities have forged a group identity. We share a common history of oppression and a common bond of resilience. We generate art, music, literature, and other expressions of our lives and our culture, infused from our experience of disability. Most importantly, we are proud of ourselves as people with disabilities. We claim our disabilities with pride as part of our identity. We are who we are: we are people with disabilities.

-Steve Brown, Ph.D.

Disability Culture: What is it?

Maybe “culture” is not the proper term for a set of elements deriving from a mixture of: 1) inherent differences; 2) societal treatment; and 3) transmitted facts, interpretations, and preferences. But what better term is there for that collection of common views and expressions that increasingly characterize Disabled people everywhere? What else do you call that familiar, comfortable rhythm of shared meanings that Disabled people, even strangers, fall into when they meet? That wide-ranging compatibility is difficult to convey to those outside of our community, however sensitive they may be to disability rights issues. (Maybe that is one reason that some of our most aware non-disabled allies and Disabled persons who are fighting hard to “make it” in the majority culture oppose the notion of disability culture.) Several Disabled individuals I know have independently referred to that in-sync feeling (when in the company of other Disabled persons) as “coming home.”

I have also noticed that once we began to attach to these common elements the label “culture,” Disabled people of all kinds began to rally behind it with a fervor I have rarely seen. In less than a decade, “disability culture” has become a popular term among our people whether activist or not, young or old, scholarly or undereducated. I detect an underlying assertion in this embrace of the term that goes something like, “Yes, we have learned something important about life from being Disabled that makes us unique yet affirms our common humanity. We refus\any longer to hide our differences. Rather, we will explore, develop and celebrate our distinctness and offer its lessons to the world.”

– Carol Gill, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus, Disability and Human Development
University of Illinois at Chicago