Minorities 'experience disability more often' than White people, Stanford speaker says

Talila Lewis’ made the remarks in connection to her Stanford event on ableism, which she says includes anything that values ‘socially constructed ideas’ of intelligence, excellence, and productivity.'

A disability advisor from the Stanford Office of Accessible Education, an event co-sponsor, says Lewis’ views have expanded how the office sees disability.

Disability needs to be redefined, abolitionist community lawyer Talila Lewis explained at a Stanford event, “A Conversation with TL Lewis: Understanding the Intersection of Disability, Ableism, Racism, & anti-Blackness.”

“Disability is the most fluid marginalized identity that exists,” Lewis said during the conversation, which was co-sponsored by the Office of Accessible Education (OAE), the Division of Student Affairs and the Stanford Critical Law Society.

Lewis, who does not use gender pronouns but instead prefers to be called ‘TL,’ offered attendees her three core disability tenets during the July 15 event: 1) Disability is fluid, 2) Disability is a natural part of the human experience, and 3) Ableism informs and forms every systemic oppression that exists.  

Lewis defines ableism as anything that “places value on people’s bodies and minds” which come from concepts of excellence, desirability, normality, and productivity, which are socially constructed ideas.

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The speaker then linked having disabilities to racism and the prison abolition movement. 

“It doesn’t matter what community you’re a part of,” Lewis said. “Maybe you work for racial justice. Maybe you work for queer and reproductive justice. Maybe you work for economic justice. Maybe you work for the abolition of policing and prison systems. Within every single one of those communities, there are disabled people, and within every single one of those communities disability is disproportionality represented.”

Speaking with Campus Reform, Lewis said, “Marginalized communities experience oppression and violence, deprivation and precarity, and neglect and continuous stress all of which lead to and exacerbate disabilities.” Lewis told Campus Reform. “[Marginalized communities] experience disability more often than people who hold power, including those who have and control resources/wealth, and those who are White, for example.”

Lewis affirmed that ableism is an issue at universities and clarified to Campus Reform that it typically shows up in “college metrics of success,” which are often “skewed in favor of those who have historically had access to a particular kind of education, who think and process a particular way, and who have historically had ready access to a robust support, resource, and social network.”

Early in the conversation at Stanford, OAE Disability Adviser Roselyn Thomas said Lewis’ ideas have shaped the office’s approach to disability.

“TL’s work has expanded our own thinking about the intersection of racial justice conversation with what we do as an office,” she said. “Our office firmly believes disability and racial justice are intertwined conversations that we all can and need to be paying attention to here at Stanford, both with respect to our daily lives and the work we do as students, staff, and faculty.” 

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The organization that Lewis co-founded, HEARD, works to end “ableism, racism, capitalism, and all other forms of oppression and violence.”

Campus Reform reached out to Stanford and the Office of Accessible Education for comment but did not hear back in time for publication. 

Follow the author of this article on Twitter @katesrichardson.