7. Critical Reflections on Intersectionality, Structures and Systems

NDA 2022 - panelist images: Critical Reflections on Intersectionality, Structures and Systems

The fourth and final session looked at the role intersectionality, structures and systems play in fostering ableism. The panelists explored how equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) work intersects with accessibility work and ways the two sometimes conflict. There was also a discussion about institutional accountability and what actions can be taken to foster greater inclusion. 

Lack of representation, friction, and power dynamics: The need for solidarity

Black, Indigenous and racialized people have traditionally been excluded in discussions about accessibility. There is often a lack of representation among Black, Indigenous and racialized people with disabilities on panels, boards or committees dedicated to developing accessible systems, technologies and spaces. The lived experiences of people from diverse communities, which also includes immigrants with disabilities and 2SLGBTQI+ people with disabilities, need to be recognized and heard or systems and structures will continue to be inaccessible. A panelist  also noted earlier in the day that disability studies often mostly reflect the research of white men. Likewise, much of the historical activism that marks the disability rights movement has been made through the lens of white, heterosexual participants without considering the experiences of 2SLGBTQI+, Black and racialized people with disabilities.

One panelist noted that in order to address systems that uphold ableism, discussions must include looking at white supremacy and structural racism. Ableism is intertwined with heteropatriarchy, white supremacy, colonialism and capitalism. This is why there should be an intersectional approach to addressing ableism.

There was also a contention that those engaged in EDI must deepen their intersectional approach to their work in order to advance accessibility and address ableism. EDI and accessibility work should be complementary and mutually reinforcing. The undercurrent of “oppression olympics” also affects both EDI and access work. The term refers to how marginalization is often judged by comparing which group (based on race, gender, socioeconomic status or disability) is most oppressed. It also creates a myth that only one issue or cause can be addressed at a time. 


Equity, diversity and inclusion work and access work are meant to be synonymous and interchangeable. You cannot do one without the other, otherwise you are not doing any of them properly.  – Jodie Glean


Panelists asserted that for change to happen at post-secondary institutions, there is a need for EDI and accessibility offices to hold senior leadership accountable. There must be transparency and collective responsibility at all levels of an institution to ensure that discriminatory practices are addressed. There also needs to be accountability and transparency at every level of the decision-making process, not just at the senior administrator level. Involving and consulting students, faculty and staff with disabilities should also be an important part of decision-making structures for structural and systemic change, and students should have a meaningful place in an institution’s governance. Accountability mechanisms and measures of success toward goals need to be defined in collaboration with these partners as well.

Panelists also suggested that spaces need to be created so Black, Indigenous, racialized and other equity-deserving people with a disability can feel a sense of belonging, build community, share resources and develop mentorship opportunities. These spaces need to be supported by institutions but they should be created by students, faculty and staff with disabilities. These spaces can promote environments where conversations about racism, transphobia and other forms of systemic oppression that intersect with ableism can be held. These spaces not only help promote student well-being, they also acknowledge that the experiences of LGBTQ+, Black and racialized people with disabilities are different from those of white students, faculty and staff with disabilities.

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