What radical disability justice can teach us about care

What would society look like if we cared about each other?

Two people hugging under blankets
PHOTO: Ron Lach / Pexels

By: C Icart, Staff Writer

The pandemic has been ongoing for over two years, and every possible conversation about masking has been had. All sides have expressed their reasoning, and at this point, with no mandates or requirements to self-isolate — it’s all up to “personal choice.” Now, many of us are choosing ourselves over anything else. Not even our own health, but our own comfort and “right” to go back to “normal.” I’m not looking to scare people with facts about the current, rather bleak, COVID-19 situation. This is much bigger than COVID-19 alone. I’m asking: what if we cared?

Caring for ourselves and others starts with caring about ourselves and others. The pressure to be self-sufficient tells us we can take care of ourselves alone: that healing and wellness comes from within. Mainstream mental health discourse teaches us all we need is a therapist and a warm bath. These are solutions that are inaccessible for some and simply unhelpful for others. Don’t get me wrong, self-care is incredibly important and counselling has helped so many people. But, the truth is we need each other and should show up for each other. Just because we can, and because people are born deserving of care. Care is not transactional. It’s not about what we get out of it. Some of us need more than we can give, and vice-versa. We need community care.

The pandemic has really put into perspective that health is not individual. Healthcare is communal. A community care model challenges ableist stigmas about being a burden when you ask for help, and rejects the idea that people who need care should deal with it in an individualized way that doesn’t disturb others. Activist Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha asks the following question in their book, Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice: “How do we create care webs that are fair to all parties involved, without people being afraid to request and receive assistance?”

Unfortunately, many lives are shaped by “failures of care.” Failures of care are when attempts to provide care don’t meet individual needs. In the face of these failures, disabled, queer, trans, racialized, and otherwise marginalized folks have found ways to come together and develop care practices for survival. Exclusion from society-at-large shouldn’t shape someone’s experience of care, or lack thereof. Reimagining community care is about solidarity for everyone. That requires a shift in how we understand the concept of care. 

Community care means giving what you can, when you can. It could look like volunteering with a local organization, or simply being conscious of the needs your friends and acquaintances might have. A community care model encourages people to seek and give support. No one should be afraid to ask for help.  

When faced with the possibility of making a space more accessible, we should take it because we care. When faced with the opportunity to wear a mask or get vaccinated, we should do it because we care. When you can donate to a GoFundMe campaign, make a sick friend a meal, or meaningfully check in with someone who’s been going through a difficult time — you should, because you care.