Courtesy of Brooke Halak

The University of Michigan Central Student Government, joined by Disability Culture at the University of Michigan (DC@UM), convened Tuesday evening via Zoom to discuss disability justice and culture on campus. LSA senior Tyler Fioritto was also confirmed as a member of the Disability Empowerment, Advocacy, and Service Scholarship Task Force.

The meeting began with comments from Eric Lipson, an independent candidate running for mayor of Ann Arbor, as he discussed the reproductive health ballot initiative for the upcoming Nov. 8 election. 

Signature gatherers began circulating petitions to codify abortion rights in Michigan at the beginning of the year, when the U.S. Supreme Court began hearing oral arguments about the future of federal abortion rights. When the Court officially overturned Roe v. Wade in June, signature numbers for the Michigan amendment surged. The petition needed 425,000 signatures to make the November ballot and ended with over 750,000, according to POLITICO.

As of Wednesday, the amendment has been blocked by the Board of State Canvassers and will no longer appear on the November ballot, unless the decision is overturned by the Michigan Supreme Court.

If the amendment does make it on the ballot, Lipson implored CSG to appeal to the student body, including out-of-state students, to register to vote in Michigan since this ballot initiative will directly impact reproductive rights in Michigan.

“The constitutional amendment … would guarantee women the right to reproductive freedom,” Lipson said. “If that fails, that will possibly set back women’s health for a generation. This is the election of a lifetime.”

In May, after POLITICO leaked a draft of the Supreme Court decision on Roe v. Wade, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer filed a motion in the Michigan Supreme Court to clarify the status of abortion access in Michigan. The lawsuit blocked a 1931 law banning abortions, with no  exceptions for rape or incest. Whitmer has since renewed the request.  

The meeting then shifted focus when DC@UM shared a presentation defining disability justice in a way that dismantles racist and ableist beliefs. 

DC@UM member and Rackham student Marjorie Herbert described the organization as a “cross-disability” group dedicated to bringing disabled students, staff, faculty, community members and allies together to build a prideful community that promotes disability justice and culture as it intersects with other identities.

According to Herbert, the group is working toward the establishment of a Disability Cultural Center at the University. 

Patricia Anderson, DC@UM member and University Library faculty member, explained the term “ableism,” a term which assigns values to people’s bodies and minds based on societal definitions of “normalcy.”

“(Ableism) leads to people and society determining people’s value based on their language, appearance, religion, health/wellness, and/or their ability to satisfactorily produce or reproduce, ‘excel’ and ‘behave,’” Anderson said. “How do we begin to dismantle something so ubiquitous and tied up in other forms of systemic oppression? Let’s start by discussing how disability is currently represented.”

Winter McLeod, DC@UM member, said disabilities, while ubiquitous, can be more or less outwardly “visible” and differ in severity. She explained that conversations about disabilities are important as they can open doors for accessibility and accommodations that may inadvertently help other people who don’t identify as disabled.

“Some examples of this effect are hybrid formats … which allow people to participate who have mobility disabilities, but also people who can only afford housing far away and have long commutes, or single parents, or people who have to work,” McLeod said. 

McLeod also said including disabled people in planning processes will prevent disabilities from becoming an afterthought, and instead allow accessibility and accommodation to be more commonplace. In order to normalize disabilities, McLoed said one must eliminate ableist language and acknowledge the intersection between ableism and racism.

“There are so many ties to race and disability that there’s a dedicated field of research called DisCrit (which stands) for Disability Critical Race Theory,” McLeod said. 

LSA sophomore Olivia O’Connell discussed her own experience with a vision disability. She emphasized that disabilities differ from person to person, so it is important to refrain from making judgements about disabled individuals.

“As a disabled woman I really related to (what) was discussed because I’ve been told that I don’t look blind or I’ve been compared to other people who people know are visually impaired or fully blind,” O’Connell said. “I think that it’s really important to highlight that.”

Phil Deaton, DC@UM member and digital information accessibility coordinator at the University, explained that disability justice is not an isolated topic. He said making the world more equitable for disabled individuals leads to new conversations and ideas pertaining to other social justice efforts.

“Disability justice must be intersectional and work with racial justice, climate justice and other identity-centric efforts,” Deaton said.

Daily Staff Reporter Brooke Halak can be reached at bhalak@umich.edu.