Crawling Toward Justice

Written by Andrew Ryder, Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and Professor of Theatre Education. Andrew Ryder has taught theatre and directed plays at SPU since 2000. His passion for inclusion is rooted in advocacy for his oldest child James, who loves singing, dancing, and musical theatre and has Down syndrome. James turns 20 on March 17.

Thirty-three years ago this week, on March 12, 1990, a profound and powerful, protest was staged by a group called ADAPT. This came to be known as the “Capitol Crawl,” and featured some 60 group members leaving their mobility devices behind to crawl up the Capitol steps to encourage passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In the following weeks the act, which had been stuck in committee, was passed, and signed by President George H. W. Bush on July 26, 1990.

Groups like ADAPT continue to advocate for legislation and community action that welcomes all people. They have been focused recently on issues like making sure disabled people can live in their communities, not institutions. These and other disabled activists promote “disability justice,” which aspires to go beyond acceptance or inclusion. Among its principles are: Intersectionality, recognizing that “we all have areas where we experience privilege, as well as areas of oppression”; Sustainability, asking that we “move away from urgency and into a deep, slow, transformative, unstoppable wave of justice and liberation”; and Interdependence, where “we [various disadvantaged groups] work to meet each other’s needs.” All of the elements of disability justice come together in Collective Liberation, “a movement towards a world in which every body and mind is known as beautiful.”

Sometimes this ideal equitable future seems far off. Other times, it is realized through simple, practical solutions. One provision of the ADA was that new sidewalks include “curb cuts” to facilitate movement of wheeled devices. The unexpected multiple uses of this access (by people with strollers, wheeled luggage, etc.) has become known as the “curb cut effect,” describing “the outsize benefits that accrue to everyone from policies and investments designed to achieve equity.” Put another way, best practices for accessibility can often be best practices for humanity.

One of the most effective images of this philosophy was drawn by Kevin Ruelle for one of University of Vermont Education professor Michael F. Giangreco’s books of cartoons about Special Education.

Will this person shoveling one ramp solve all the world’s accessibility and discrimination challenges? No. But it shows a simple physical accessibility solution which helps everyone and can be replicated using existing technology and infrastructure.

Empowered and encouraged by movements like the “Capitol Crawl” toward a future of full disability justice, let’s look for existing “curb cuts” which, if we just keep them clear, can provide a “path for everyone.” At the same time, let’s seek additional, new accessibility tools that can welcome all kinds of people while benefiting all of us.

Center for Faithful Business

Seattle Pacific University

Dr. JoAnn Flett, Executive Director


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