"Women's lives are shaped by sexism and expectations.
Disabled people's lives are shaped by ableism and a complete lack of expectations.
But what happens when you're subjected to both sets of rules?"
The basement analogy
“Imagine a basement which contains all people who are disadvantaged on the basis of race, sex, class, sexual preference, age and/or physical ability. These people are stacked-feet standing on shoulders-with those on the bottom being disadvantaged by the full array of factors, up to the very top, where the heads of all those disadvantaged by a singular factor brush up against the ceiling. Their ceiling is actually the floor above which only those who are not disadvantaged in any way reside. In efforts to correct some aspects of domination, those above the ceiling admit from the basement only those who can say that "but for" the ceiling, they too would be in the upper room. A hatch is developed through which those placed immediately below can crawl. Yet this hatch is generally available only to those who -due to the singularity of their burden and their otherwise privileged position relative to those below- are in the position to crawl through. Those who are multiply-burdened are generally left below unless they can somehow pull themselves into the groups that are permitted to squeeze through the hatch.” (Crenshaw, 1989, p.151-152)
In this analogy, intersectionality is illustrated by the experience of those multiply-burdened and left in the basement. Intersectionality was coined by Kimberle Crenshaw in 1989. She introduced this notion while examining how feminist and anti-racist theories tend to exclude black women by focusing on uni-dimensional forms of identities in minority groups (Crenshaw, 1989; Crenshaw, 1991). Examining multiple court cases, Crenshaw demonstrates how feminist theories overlook the role of race when analyzing patriarchy and sexuality by focusing on gender subordination through white women's lenses (Crenshaw, 1989; Crenshaw, 1991). She then highlights how anti-racist theories center on black men's experiences, again marginalizing black women (Crenshaw, 1989; Crenshaw, 1991).
In her own words: "Black women can experience discrimination in ways that are both similar to and different from those experienced by white women and Black men. Black women sometimes experience discrimination in ways similar to white women's experiences; sometimes they share very similar experiences with Black men. Yet often they experience double-discrimination -the combined effects of practices which discriminate on the basis of race, and on the basis of sex. And sometimes, they experience discrimination as Black women -not the sum of race and sex discrimination, but as Black women." (Crenshaw, 1989, p. 149)
In her work, Crenshaw elaborates on the consequences of single-issue frameworks: accepting dominant theories but the one subject to such framework leads to the marginalization of groups which should be included, hinders the development of appropriate theories and praxis to address related issues, and generally make the goal of ending any of these issues more elusive (Crenshaw, 1989). Moreover, it happens that initiatives to tackle single-issues end up conflicting, sometimes to the point that a solution to one problem will create another (Crenshaw, 1991).
Intersectionality & Disability
Intersectionality is essential to consider in the context of disability, as it may occur in various ways. Disability is not the sole definer of someone's ways of life, meaning that, in addition to ableism, a disabled individual can also experience cultural, ethnic, gender, and/or sexual discrimination. Additionally, as characterized by the intersectional framework, such experiences do not come down to the sum of each challenge relating to a form of discrimination taken separately; they combine. It is, therefore, important to consider the entirety of one's situation in the context of disability or another.
Intersectionality can appear on another level in the case of disability: disabilities are not mutually exclusive; they can be simultaneous in many ways. Crenshaw's note of conflicting solution attempts interestingly applies in this case: accommodations for one condition can conflict with accommodations for another. It is thus crucial to take into account the needs of the individual requesting support before mindlessly following sets of rules.
Crenshaw, K. (1989). Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics. University of Chicago Legal Forum, 1989(1), 139-167.
Crenshaw, K. (1991). Mapping the Margins : Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color. Stanford Law Review, 43(6), 1241‑1299.
Webster, L. (2023). The view from down here. London, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland: Dorling Kindersley Limited.