UW Disability Studies Initiative Statement on Remote Work and Disability Accommodations

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light several inequities related to disability, such as the use of disability in triage policies guiding the allocation of scarce medical resources. But disability injustice is not only found in health policy. It was recently reported that Cornell University is denying all requests from its faculty and instructional staff to teach remotely, even when such requests are made as a matter of disability accommodations. Blanket denials of disability accommodations are unconscionable at any time, but especially at this moment, when more people are experiencing chronic illness and disability than ever before. The UW Disability Studies Initiative strongly supports the right of all employees to safe and accessible working conditions. We urge our colleagues and administrators at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and other institutions of higher learning, to honor their legal and ethical commitments to their faculty, students, and instructional and administrative staff with disabilities, and to treat them as the valued members of the community that they are.

UW Disability Studies Initiative Statement on Racial Justice

As scholars of disability and, in many cases, members of the disability community ourselves, we are committed to support for life over property. We come together in solidarity to condemn, in no uncertain terms, the violent threats and intimidation of our brave and brilliant colleague Dr. Sami Schalk, whose book Bodyminds Reimagined: Disability, Race, and Gender in Black Women’s Speculative Fiction (Duke University Press, 2018) is essential reading. We condemn the threats made against our beloved colleague and her home department Gender and Women’s Studies, in which a number of us also teach. We support Dr. Schalk’s admirable service on the board of Freedom, Inc. and her activist participation, activism that directly connects with her current book project on disability politics in Black activism. And we ally ourselves in affirming that all Black lives matter.

Moreover, as scholars of intersectional disability studies, we know that disability and race are inextricable, and that racism and ableism are deeply intertwined. As a recent article in The Guardian explains, “people of color in the US are more likely to be disabled, have a mental illness or have a chronic medical condition, due to a number of factors, including environmental racism and poor access to healthcare.” It is estimated that up to half of the people killed by the police have disabilities or are experiencing a health crisis, and disabled people of color are especially vulnerable to police violence. In 2015, Tony Robinson was murdered by the Madison police while in the midst of a mental health crisis. Philip Coleman, Quintonio Legrier, Adam Trammell, Marcus-David Peters, Carlos Ingram Lopez, and Charleena Lyles were also killed by police when they needed care, and there are countless others.

We are also mindful that we are currently in the midst of a global pandemic that threatens people of color, Indigenous people, and disabled people most acutely. Writes Mary Louise Pratt:

Is it uncanny or overdetermined that the two epic events that have upheaved the U.S. and the world—the pandemic and George Floyd’s murder—are both about suffocation? Of the 115,000 (a known undercount) killed by coronavirus in the United States, nearly all died of suffocation as their lungs failed, or of the devastating effects of being placed on breathing machines. Like Eric Garner and so many others, George Floyd also suffocated because a police officer blocked his airway long enough to kill him. Classic lynchings used to strangle by hanging; the contemporary version involves chokeholds. They are one and the same, public spectacles using blocked airways as an instrument of racial terror.

The Disability Studies Initiative affirms its solidarity with the Black community and we admire the protestors who are expressing their rightful objection to police brutality, systemic racism, and white supremacy in Madison and around the world. We join them in calling for justice for the murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, Elijah McClain, and George Floyd, and join them in demanding real change in our policies and institutions. There is no disability justice without racial justice.

The UW Disability Studies Initiative