A photo of one panel of a community art project at the Ed Roberts Campus in Berkeley, California, depicting two figures dancing, one in a wheelchair. Artist Unknown. Photo by Cassandra Hartblay.

I have been an activist working toward the social inclusion of humans living with disabilities for over ten years. Ableism remains one of the least recognized but most pervasive forms of discrimination, domination, and oppression in the industrialized world, overlapping and intersecting with classism, racism, sexism, heterosexism, colonialism, the privileging of science and logic over other ways of knowing, and corporate consumerism in complex and important ways.

As an artist, activist, scholar, and educator, I experience a fluid and resonant synchronicity between each of these different roles. In the scholarly community we might call this interwovenness praxis, engaged scholarship, or public anthropology.

Moral Monday

In juxtaposition with my regional focus on the former Soviet Union, I continue to build networks and bridges between those seeking to undo ableism and increase inclusion for people with disabilities between the US and Russia and other post-Soviet republics. In doing so, I seek not to reinforce existing flows of power and knowledge about deinstitutionalization or inclusive education (e.g. from the West to “the rest”), but rather to document and build patterned understandings of how change becomes possible in a variety of settings. I have documented the work of activists who are building independent grassroots Waldorf-inspired communities in rural Buryatia, working with state-international NGO partnerships to build inclusive education capacity in Kyrgyzstan, or using the Russian legal system to address structural barriers to social and workplace inclusion in Petrozavodsk and Ulan Ude.

Recently, I worked with Soros-Kyrgyzstan to coauthor a short qualitative description of inclusive education efforts in a small town outside of Bishkek, which, along with five other case studies will be published as an edited volume, and deployed as applied research toward related policy-making in Central Asia and elsewhere. It is scheduled to come out during the spring of 2013.

Other recent projects include my work with the Carolina Coalition for Disability Justice, spearheading an effort to raise awareness of disability as diversity on the UNC-CH campus. Notably, during the spring of 2012, I worked with the undergraduate students in Bill Lachicotte’s Anthropology of Disability course at UNC-CH to produce several final projects that addressed real issues facing the UNC-CH community. For instance, one group of five students researched what kinds of information was needed for students with disabilities moving into dorms, and in collaboration with students living with disabilities on campus and the UNC Disability Services Office, created this new online accessibility guide, gathering information from across campus into one site. Another group of four students created a video highlighting the integration of disability studies into the UNC Med School’s social medicine curriculum. Stay tuned for new CCDJ projects in collaboration with Advocates for Carolina, including a winter disability studies conference at UNC, and spearheading an effort to create a SafeZone Trainings for disability allies on the UNC campus.

In the past, I have worked with The Disability Advocacy Project of the Legal Aid Society in Queens, New York (2007), and the Interact Center for the Visual and Performing Arts in Minneapolis, Minnesota (2004-2006).

Frequently, these projects involve the work of using artistic and/or digital media representations to share viewpoints that are otherwise misunderstood or underrepresented.

Parking for the Handicapped, Petrozavodsk, Russia. photo credit: Renald Renks

They also involve the slow work of building networks of activists and stakeholders. For instance, my Twitter accounts, @chartblay and @inkluziavsekh, aim to collect and share information about disability and activism, globally, and in Russia, respectively.