What is disability policy?1 Health care, benefits, education, housing, long-term supports, the Americans with Disabilities Act, inclusion: these are all key terms that come to mind. Some argue disability is not a distinct policy area, but rather people and a community to engage with about policies. At the Disability Economic Justice Collaborative, we believe that both are true: disability policy is a distinct policy sector and also crosses all other policies impacting our daily lives.

With 61 million people, or 1 in 4, in the United States living with disabilities, every policy is a disability policy. Yet, disability policy is too often siloed, treated as separate and set apart from broader economic and social policymaking; likewise, the disability community is treated as an afterthought, a box to check at the end of the policy process rather than center from the beginning. When done right, disability policy embeds access, equity, and inclusion, benefiting impacted groups far beyond the impacted community’s core membership.

Values-Based Policy

Too often today, public policies are reactive in nature and developed in silos outside of the larger economic context that individuals and families experience on the ground. But real life does not happen in silos—and in the words of Audre Lorde, “people do not lead single-issue lives.”

With 61 million people, or 1 in 4, in the United States living with disabilities, every policy is a disability policy.

The Disability Economic Justice Collaborative is taking a different approach. We believe that public policies should be anchored in a clear and grounded set of values about the kind of society we want to build—one that respects and centers human dignity and the inherent rights that come with being human. Rather than tinkering at the edges, we believe the time is now for a high-level, values-based disability economic justice framework to inform and guide the development and implementation of policy making with a disability lens—across issue areas and traditional silos, in recognition that every issue is a disability issue—to realize the vision of economic security for all disabled people in the United States.

The Collaborative’s framework, which we present below, is intended to be used by all and shared widely as a guide for policy development. Its applicability includes federal policy making in Congress, the White House, and across federal agencies; at the state and local levels; as well as at policy and advocacy organizations that shape policy making. Whether you are an advocate, policymaker, funder, practitioner, or researcher, the goal is to find yourself within the framework and use the values it articulates to bring a disability policy lens to your work. Implicit in and core to the successful integration of this framework is the principle that each of the elements of disability economic justice must not only be available but also meaningfully accessible to all disabled people in the United States. For example, access to adequate, nutritious, and culturally appropriate food is of little benefit to someone without the services and support they require in order to purchase and prepare it.

The ultimate goal of this policy framework and the work of the Disability Economic Justice Collaborative is achieving long-denied economic security for disabled people in the United States—and creating clear policy goals and outcomes to measure our progress towards that vision—through a connection between policy, research, and practice.

A green flowchart that shows a cycle of three concepts, flowing between Policy, Practice, and Research.

Disability Economic Justice

Disability Economic Justice, as defined by the Disability Economic Justice Collaborative, means creating opportunities for every disabled person to have a dignified, productive, and creative life, and centering the perspectives and experiences of disabled people—and especially multiply marginalized disabled people—to create a society in which all disabled people have access to equitable opportunities and achieve economic security. Disability economic justice encompasses nearly all domestic policy, from health care to education, from employment to accessible technology. Voting access and civil rights are also crucial, because equal opportunities and full participation cannot be achieved without bringing a disability lens across all policy making.

The Disability Economic Justice Policy Framework


  1. Note: In this article, disability is discussed from a policy perspective. The Disability Economic Justice Collaborative also believes in disability as an identity, which is integral to development of policy. Disability is inherently part of the human experience and intersects with race, gender, socioeconomic status, and all aspects of an individual’s being. To learn more about disability identity, watch this video or read this article.