Disability Culture Lab Launches To Fight Ableism, Celebrate Disabled People

Full length portrait of young disabled Asian man using accessible university library and talking to friend, copy space

Today, the Disability Culture Lab (DCL), the first nonprofit disability narrative and media lab, launches with a mission to shift the narrative around disability from fear and pity to solidarity and liberation and move the needle. ableism of indifference to action.

For more information visit: DisabilityCultureLab.org/

Through creative campaigns, strategic communications, scholarships, and a central resource center, DCL aims to shift the narrative around disability from fear and pity to solidarity and liberation, and move the needle on ableism from indifference to action. Its unique strategic communications infrastructure, by and for the disability community, is rooted in disability justice.

“For a long time, strategic communications in the disability space was seen as somewhat lenient. That is far from the case,” said Rebecca Cokley, head of the US Disability Rights Program at the Ford Foundation, one of the founding funders. “Our community is strong and powerful, and the way we communicate that is key. We have stories worth telling, inaccurate narratives that need correction, messages that need amplifying, and tools that need honing. And Ford is thrilled to support the Disability Culture Lab, in partnership with our friends at the MacArthur Foundation, to carry out this mission.”

“The rights and lived experiences of people with disabilities have been ignored and dismissed for years, largely due to negative stereotypes and inaccurate stories spread and reified in the media and popular culture,” said Senior Officer Jen Humke of Journalism programs and the Media Program of the MacArthur Foundation, one of the founding funders. “The Disability Culture Lab is well positioned to combat these negative and inaccurate perceptions by equipping the people and organizations that make up the disability community with the tools and power to change the narrative. We see the Disability Culture Lab as a 21st century civil and human rights organization that uses the power of media, technology and popular culture to achieve lasting change.”

The DLC launches at a critical time amid a prolonged Covid surge that has led to the largest disabling event since the Vietnam War. By April 2024, an estimated 17 million adults are living with the disabling effects of long Covid. More than 1 in 4 Americans are disabled and that number is increasing. DCL focuses on building solidarity and community among people with disabilities, providing resources to experts who have been disabled in all movements, including reproductive justice, gun violence, black liberation, gender justice, LGBTQIA+ rights, change climate, environmental justice, indigenous justice and more.

“We are launching the Disability Culture Lab because we need a big narrative shift about disability in the US. The face of disability, what we see in the news, does not match the lived reality of disabled people,” said Meier Galblum Haigh (they/them), Founder and Executive Director of the Disability Culture Lab. “Disabled people are queer, immigrant, Black, Indigenous and people of color. We are disabled by domestic violence, police and brutal travel across borders. Our stories are happy and confusing, and we deserve to prosper as we are now. We need a communications infrastructure, by us and for us, that is in solidarity with other movements for justice, because our liberation is deeply intertwined.”

“As a disabled Black woman, I am intimately familiar with the ways ableism seeks to diminish the lives and contributions of our community. “I am delighted to co-chair the DCL Board because our movement desperately needs work that changes the narrative around disability and positions us to thrive now, not in the distant future when the world decides to care about us,” says Kenrya. Rankin, co-chair of the Disability Culture Lab advisory board and accessibility leader, co-director of the Disability ERG, and research editor at the Mozilla Foundation.

“I have worked in newsrooms for 18 years and one thing that has become evident is the lack of resources to do accurate, compassionate and investigative reporting on disabled people and our stories. I’m excited to co-chair the DCL Board because we’re going to fill an essential void: providing journalists with sources that challenge ableist institutions, including the status quo in newsrooms. By mapping the incredibly talented disability community experts across the country, we will provide sources when and where journalists need them,” says Cara Reedy, co-chair of the Disability Culture Lab Advisory Board and executive director of the Association of Disabled Journalists.

Disability Culture Lab is a nonprofit disability media and storytelling lab, fiscally sponsored by the Proteus Fund. DCL exists to dismantle ableism and celebrate disability community and culture.

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