Disability culture is a widely used concept developed in the late 1980s to capture differences in lifestyle that are caused or promoted by disability. Disability cultures exist as communities of people around topics of disability. The cultures include arts movements, coalitions, and include but are not limited to: poetry, dance, performance pieces, installments, and sculptures. Steven Brown, in an academic study, wrote, "The existence of a disability culture is a relatively new and contested idea. Not surprising, perhaps, for a group that has long been described with terms like 'in-valid', 'impaired', 'limited', 'crippled', and so forth. Scholars would be hard-pressed to discover terms of hope, endearment or ability associated with people with disabilities."
Disability culture cannot be defined by one specific description or language. It is a complex blending of art, performance, expression, and community. Within this culture, the word "disabled" has been re-purposed to represent a social identity of empowerment and awareness. Like many civil rights movements in the past, disability culture challenges the norms of society, and seeks to counter oppressive entities such as medicalization and institutionalization. Its core values as a culture are reflected in art, conversation, goals, or behaviors. These core values often include: "an acceptance of human differences, an acceptance of human vulnerability and interdependence, a tolerance for a lack of resolution of the unpredictable in life, and a humor to laugh at the oppressor or situation, however dire it may be".
"The elements of our culture include, certainly, our longstanding social oppression, but also our emerging art and humor, our piecing together of our history, our evolving language and symbols, our remarkably unified world view, beliefs and values, and our strategies for surviving and thriving." -Carol Gill Ph.D.
Disability culture is a trajectory, a movement, a path, rather than a destination: "Disability culture is the difference between being alone, isolated, and individuated with a physical, cognitive, emotional or sensory difference that in our society invites discrimination and reinforces that isolation – the difference between all that and being in community. Naming oneself part of a larger group, a social movement or a subject position in modernity can help to focus energy, and to understand that solidarity can be found – precariously, in improvisation, always on the verge of collapse." - Petra Kuppers
"Disability culture, which values interdependence over the illusion of independence, privileges not a uniform perspective but the validity and value of a wide range of ways of moving through the world - and the varied perspectives those different experiences engender." - Jim Ferris
- Vasey, Sian (1989). "Disability culture: it's a way of life" (PDF). Feminist Arts News. 2 (10).
- Brown, Steven. "Investigating a Culture of Disability Final Report" (PDF). Retrieved 26 March 2013.
- Gill, Carol (1995). "A Psychological View of Disability Culture". Disability Studies Quarterly (Fall Issue): 1–4 . Retrieved 3 April 2013.
- Kuppers, Petra (2011). Disability Culture and Community Performance: Find a Strange and Twisted Shape. Houndmills and New York: Palgrave. p. 109. ISBN 978-0-230-29827-9.
- Ferris, Jim (2011). "Keeping the Knives Sharp". In Bartlett, Jennifer; Black, Shiela; Northen, Michael. Beauty is a verb : the new poetry of disability (1st ed.). El Paso, TX: Cinco Puntos Press. p. 91. ISBN 978-1935955054.