We Move Together: Interview with Kelly Fritsch
We Move Together is a joyful new children’s book about disability community and culture. In conversation with one of the books’ co-authors, Kelly Fritsch, we discuss COVID-19, children’s literature, and disability justice in Canada.
Why did you decide to write this book?
Anne McGuire, Eduardo Trejos, and I began writing this book in 2017 after failing to find picture books that engage with disability culture and disability justice that we could read with our kids. So many books for kids that feature disabled characters are either about individually overcoming adversity or how despite having some kind of disability we’re all supposedly the same because of our shared humanity. These kinds of stories leave out the ways that ableism impacts disabled peoples’ lives and how experiences of ableism can definitely make us not all the same. They also frequently leave out the many joys of disability culture and community, how disability is more than just medical treatments or scientific understandings about our bodies. Many of these books had inaccurate depictions of what assistive devices or disabled people look like. And more often than not, the books that we found represent disability as anomalous or undesirable and these were not the kind of stories we wanted to read with our kids.
I’m a disabled person and disability studies professor and I use a wide variety of mobility devices in my daily life including an electric wheelchair, scooter, walker, and cane, and I’m also in community with folks who are diversely disabled. My kids have had A LOT of questions about all of this, as have their friends, or people we meet at the park, or at their school. Anne is also a disability studies professor and parent and we’ve collaborated on many disability-related different projects. We started talking about what we were yearning to find in children’s literature and then thought, why not try to create a book ourselves? We approached Eduardo who is a graphic designer and started drafting up text and images.
The book features a multi-generational cast of characters, some of whom are visibly disabled, others who are not. Overall, the book is about community, the different ways we can and do move together, and some of the barriers that can stop us from being together or getting what we need. The book reflects the diversity of the communities we live in, including age, gender, disability, racial, and sexual diversity. It also has a glossary section at the back that allows readers more context and the ability to engage with some of the ideas that are presented in the main text, like accessibility, ableism, different forms of communicating, and disability justice.
Who is this book for?
This book is for everyone! It is deceptively simple yet gets at many different contemporary issues – we hope it is an interesting read for all ages! Cory Silverberg, author of the brilliant What Makes A Baby said “If you have a body, you are going to want to read this book!” Alice Wong so generously called it “the book I’ve been waiting for!” and Lydia X.Z. Brown remarked that “it is a love letter to the next generation of disabled kids, and a provocation for their nondisabled peers to rethink an ableist society’s assumptions…”
The book is, in part, for disability communities to highlight their beautiful contributions to the world and I really hope the book is meaningful to those communities for that reason. Outside of disability communities, we also wrote the book for all those curious about the generative possibilities of disability and wrote the book in opposition to the ableist assumption that there is nothing good that comes from disability. We also wrote the book for educators to use in classrooms and community groups/organizations. We created a free, 60+ page open access education resource which offers educators curriculum, discussion prompts, printable games and templates, lesson plans, and other resources to support conversations about disability, accessibility, social justice, and community building. The learning guide is generally geared for grades 1-5 but can be adapted for many different learning contexts.
How has the book been impacted by being released during COVID-19?
I’m so happy for the book to be out in the world, even in our pandemic world. The book is a reminder of how much we need disability joy and disability justice at a time when so many of us are not moving together, at a time when there is unbearable inequity and injustice.
For many disabled people, so much of the violence and brutality of COVID-19 has not been because of the virus itself but because of ableist, racist, and eugenic social policies that make disabled lives disposable, expendable, unworthy of care. We’ve seen this play out countless times over the pandemic, from the ways some disabled people living in institutional congregate care settings like group homes have been locked in their rooms, to pandemic triage protocols that leave disabled people without access to lifesaving medical care, to not being prioritized in the vaccination rollouts. And often the very structures that have enabled oppression and suffering during the pandemic, like governmental institutions, use the language of “we’re in this together!” which so obviously has not been the case.
It has been challenging to release and promote a book that uses a similar vocabulary of moving together to mean something very different, to show a very different world that, for example, values interdependence in ways many politicians and others reject. But importantly, the book shows us a world that we have the collective power to bring into being and examples of how that world is already being built. We Move Together shows us simple and complex ways we can change the world by practicing disability justice and challenging ableism.
There is such exciting disability community world building within the book. How do you think that is happening within the Canadian landscape?
Around the same time I started working on We Move Together, I also began to work on another book project titled Disability Injustice: Confronting Criminalization in Canada. That book, geared to adult readers rather than kids, is forthcoming in Spring 2022 and is co-edited with my brilliant colleagues Jeff Monaghan and Emily van der Meulen. In that book, we explore the many ways in which ableism is embedded in Canadian criminological institutions, policies, and everyday practices, making incarceration and institutionalization dangerous and deadly for disabled people. The book highlights how disability justice means embracing abolition and challenging policing, practices of crime control, and various processes of criminalization, showing how ableism is connected to white supremacy and eugenics and criminalization, unpacking the links between forms of incarceration that happen in places like residential schools, hospitals, prisons, group homes, and mental health institutions. We must grapple with the complexities of deinstitutionalizing disabled people, ways of responding to people in mental distress and crisis, and how to develop communities of care. Part of the reason we began working on that project was because at the time it was harder to find work being done in the Canadian context explicitly making these kinds of links and we felt this was pressing to address.
Now, just in the couple of years it has taken to put together that book, there has been an unprecedented explosion in disability justice work in Canada and the ways in which abolition movements have been intersecting with disability justice organizing is phenomenal and worldbuilding. Disability justice work is completely shifting what people imagine is possible in the Canadian context and beyond. For example, it’s just become so much more apparent to more people the way in which the policing of people in crisis and criminalization of disability is an intersectional issue requiring the abolition of the police and other carceral spaces. This is not to say that this work came out of nowhere! It’s been the result of a long history of activist and social movement organizing in Canada, including work done by Black Lives Matter, anti-colonial, decolonial, land back indigenous sovereignty struggles, climate justice work, Palestine solidarity, and many other struggles. And so much of it is completely indebted to the disability justice framework developed by Patty Berne, Sins Invalid, and others, as well as the emergence of the Disability Justice Network of Ontario and the incredible and indispensable work done by people like Sarah Jama. For me, DJNO is world building and exactly what disabled people in Canada need! The work that they’ve been doing in coalition and solidarity with others has just been so hopeful, so encouraging, and is an example of transformative work already happening. There’s just an incredible amount of disability justice work happening now on the ground and also in disability studies scholarship. So much so that I love that I don’t even know half the stuff that’s going on because people are expansively taking up this work in all sorts of ways!
I also see more and more disabled people taking on leadership roles in various movement spaces and that is key to disability world building, to develop broad disability activist and organizing skills in Canada, and to push for movement spaces to be more accessible. A lot of the ways in which disabled people survive and thrive is by sharing knowledge of how to make life livable, as well as sharing our struggles against ableism and intersecting oppressions. This was especially clear with the recent grassroots fights against Bill C-7 in Canada, a fight against federal legislation that has substantially expanded the scope of medical assistance in dying in Canada.
Disability communities have raised concerns about “returning to normal” and non-disabled people quickly forgetting all that they have learned from disabled people during the pandemic as places begin to reopen. Do you think We Move Together can challenge that quick forgetting?
I hope so! The book really aims to open up conversations about disability rather than shut them down, pointing out the ways in which social problems are complex and nuanced and that there’s not actually one easy solution. One example in the book is about the plastic straw debate, where the characters in the book are in conflict about wanting to protect the environment from plastic pollution while also confronting how the movement to ban plastic straws does not take into account the needs of disabled people who rely on plastic straws to drink and eat. In the book, after this conflict scene, a character takes a break, emphasizing the importance of slowing down and sitting with the conflict. The “moving together” part of We Move Together isn’t about avoiding our differences or turning away from our conflicts but quite the opposite: that we must find ways to move together even when it is very difficult.
In many ways I think we are always fighting against forms of forgetting, whether it is forgetting all the disabled people currently isolated in congregate care institutions, or more of a generational forgetting of the lessons learned in past struggles. In any case, I hope the book inspires people to fight a bit more, a bit harder, a bit longer because there is so much that needs to change. But I also hope that the book makes clear the importance of interdependence and solidarity, that the kind of change we need can only happen by moving together.
Kelly Fritsch is a disabled writer, educator, and parent living in Ottawa. She is an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Carleton University and director of the Disability Justice & Crip Culture Collaboratory. Her books include We Move Together, Keywords for Radicals: The Contested Vocabulary of Late-Capitalist Struggle and the forthcoming Disability Injustice: Confronting Criminalization in Canada. Find her on Twitter: @kellyfritsch1
Megan Linton is a disabled deinstitutionalization researcher, writer and advocate based in Unceded Algonquin Territory. Megan’s research and advocacy focuses on the ongoing use of institutions for disabled people in Canada, and the possibilities of abolition. She has written for Canadian Dimension, CBC, the Disability Justice Network of Ontario and others. Find her on Twitter: @PinkCaneRedLip
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