Honoring Marta Russell (1951-2013)

Malhotra, Ravi

Publisher:  Against the Current
Date Written:  01/03/2014
Year Published:  2014  
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX20390

A tribute to the life and work of the late disability rights advocate Marta Russell.



Unlike many authors writing about disability, especially in the United States where postmodern theories of the disabled body have long been fashionable and dominated the field, Russell set herself apart by her clear-headed perspective about how the capitalist system works to marginalize and systematically oppress disabled people.

She was distinctive in developing critical analysis of disability benefit systems such as SSI and the byzantine rules of Medicaid that too often keep disabled people from participation in the labor market.

Reading Beyond Ramps many years ago as a young disability rights advocate, I found Marta's perspective a breath of fresh air, combining passionate and principled advocacy with a rich understanding of political economy and a vivid account of how disabled people are oppressed by a capitalist system that requires bodies that conform to the imperative need of profit maximization.

Disabled people who could not produce goods at the pace that factories required were simply excluded from the labor market after the Industrial Revolution. She is also unrelenting in her commentary on eugenics, the Nazi extermination of disabled people and its enormous impact on disabled people.

She is particularly unwavering in her assertion that the Americans with Disabilities Act, enacted in 1990 by a bipartisan consensus, could not on its own lead to economic justice for disabled people. Where many liberal disability advocates have mostly emphasized the very real backlash by conservative lobbyists and the courts against the ADA, Marta insists that the structural nature of capitalism, and the organization of work in a manner that placed profit at its center, largely excluded disabled people from the workplace, something no law reform project could fix.

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