Disability Rights Activism for Student Leaders

by QueerAbility


CW: slurs against disabled people


18995_133068383521617_651254922_nThe disability community is the only minority group one can enter at anytime. For example, you might get into a car accident tomorrow and become disabled. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control estimates that 1 in 5 people have a disability, which means that 1 in 5 LGBTQ people have a disability so it is important to ensure that LGBTQ spaces are inclusive of LGBTQ people with disabilities. To help you be inclusive of LGBTQ people with disabilities in your activities, we have created this guide.

What Are Disability Rights?

Disability rights is a movement to advance inclusion of people with disabilities in our communities. People with disabilities have the right to self-determination and equal opportunity at school, work, and anywhere else we might be.

Disability Etiquette Do’s and Don’ts

 DO use respectful terminology.

In addition to slurs like “retard” and “cripple”, the disability community views terms like “special needs”, “challenged”, “handicapable”, “handicapped”, and “differently abled” negatively. “Disabled person” and “person with a disability” are both acceptable ways to refer to people with disabilities. However, as is the case with pronouns, it is encouraged to ask people with disabilities how they prefer to be referred to as.

DON’T treat people with disabilities as inspiring for simply existing.

Too often, people with disabilities are seen as inspiring for simply existing and doing everyday things like going to school, work, and the grocery store.

DO respect a person with a disability’s privacy.

The objectification of people with disabilities is similar to the objectification of trans people and must be avoided. Don’t ask questions you wouldn’t be comfortable answering yourself.

“Nothing About Us Without Us”

The first thing you should do to be inclusive of LGBTQ people with disabilities is to include LGBTQ people with disabilities in your leadership whenever possible. “Nothing About Us Without Us” has been the motto of disability rights activists for decades, and it continues to be used today. People with disabilities know what is best for themselves and others with disabilities, and it is important to listen to people with disabilities.

Learn Disability Rights History

The disability rights movement, much like the LGBTQ rights movement, has a rich history of struggles and victories for the civil rights of people with disabilities.  Learn about the fight for important pieces of legislation like the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act as well as notable disability rights advocates like Judith Heumann and Ed Roberts.

A brief overview of disability rights history can be found here:


Make All of Your Meetings and Events Accessible

When planning a meeting or event, ensure that they are accessible.

Physical Access Needs

  • Wheelchair ramps at every entrance
  • Working elevators
  • Braille signage on doors and handouts
  • Wheelchair accessible bathrooms
  • ASL (American Sign Language) interpretation
  • CART (Communication Access and Real-time Translation) services
  • Plenty of outlets to charge power-chairs and AAC* devices

Social Communication and Sensory Access Needs

  • Social communication badges*
  • Non-fluorescent lighting*
  • Designated smoking areas for outdoor events
  • Crash room*

*AAC stands for Augmented and Assistive Communication and is used by people with disabilities that prevent them from verbally communicating. Social communication badges indicate the level of social interaction a person with a disability desires and from whom. A link to a PDF with details is found below. Fluorescent lighting can be overwhelming for people with sensory processing disabilities. A crash room is for people with sensory processing disabilities to decompress from sensory overload.


 Build Coalitions With Disability Rights Groups On Your Campus

Building coalitions and working collaboratively with other groups on campus builds your group and strengthens your movement. The LGBTQ and disability communities have a lot in common and can make a bigger impact if they work together. For example, does your LGBTQ group plan to have an anti-bullying initiative? See if the disability groups on campus want to collaborate and join resources!


This guide was created by Queerability in collaboration with Campus Pride. Queerability is an LGBTQ and disability rights advocacy organization run by for LGBTQ people with disabilities and works to ensure that the voices of LGBTQ people with disabilities are heard in the conversation around LGBTQ and disability. 

For more information about Queerability check out www.facebook.com/qability and http://queerability.tumblr.com

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