Environmentalism for All:
How should we confront ableism in environmental education and practice?
It is more important than ever to build a widespread environmental movement that is cohesive, inclusive, and effective.
Statement from the author (16 April 2020):
Team-building activities are an integral part of most, if not all, organizations. Teams, clubs, academic institutions, and workplaces all rely on cohort-building to develop trust, camaraderie, and unity. The Master's program at the University of Michigan's School for Environment and Sustainability (UM SEAS) is certainly no exception, and as a first-year student in the program, I encountered several cohort-building activities beginning with orientation and running throughout the school year. In participating in these activities, I began to notice how ableism is deeply rooted environmental movement at large, and indeed within the SEAS community, in ways we are working together to transform without relinquishing important traditions.
Before continuing, it is critical that I recognize my own privilege and limited perspective in engaging with this topic. I am a cis, white, traditionally-abled woman from an upper-middle-class background working to practice environmental justice to the best of my ability. Most of my first-hand exposure to issues of ableism has come from close relationships with differently-abled family and friends, and their anecdotes and experiences originally opened my eyes to the everyday manifestations of ableism that they encountered. I recognize that there are nuances in the identities discussed here that I will never be able to fully comprehend, and I ask readers to assume my best intentions.
Additionally, it is important to note that disability activists and scholars use a range of language and terminology for their own self-affirmation and discussion purposes. However, as I am not differently-abled I have not attempted to use their language directly in this case.
CONTENT WARNING: Please be advised that historical descriptions, quotes and images are used in portions of this case that some may find disturbing, offensive, demeaning, or triggering. They have been presented here for historical context and in no way reflect the opinions of the author. If there is language use or notations in the first-person portions of the case that you believe should be amended, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.