Everyday disability activisms: families on the front line

Dr Carey-Ann Morrison1, Professor Lynda Johnston2, Professor  Robyn Longhurst2, Dr Esther Woodbury3

1Imagine Better, New Zealand, 2University of Waikato, New Zealand, 3Disabled Persons’ Assembly Aotearoa New Zealand

Families contribute in important ways to building more inclusive spaces and places where people with disability belong. Yet, the role families play in effecting positive social change is under-researched. This presentation aims to make visible the often ‘hidden’ everyday activisms of families. It focuses on the spaces, places and emotions of family activism. It questions the boundaries of activism by looking at the relationship between ‘activism’ and ‘everyday family lives’.

We draw on empirical material from a project called ‘Spaces of Belonging: Geographies of Disabilities’ in Aotearoa New Zealand. ImagineBetter, the Disabled Persons Assembly (DPA), and the University of Waikato collaborated on the project. Individual interviews, focus groups, and written responses were the methods used. This paper draws on the experiences of families with children with learning disabilities.

Families effect social change through small everyday acts of resistance. Sometimes these acts are intentional and other times they are by accident. Families’ everyday disability activisms happen in a range of spaces and at a range of scales, such as at schools, and on streets. Their daily activisms, whilst seemingly mundane, are politicised and potentially transformative. Everyday family activisms create small scale change, and when combined, challenge discriminatory social relations at larger scales.

Activism is often understood as occurring beyond everyday family spaces. Yet, failing to acknowledge ‘hidden’ activisms means that social change performed by families is overlooked. Stories about families’ everyday activisms are an important, yet undervalued, evidence-base from which to contribute to disability rights activism. They can provide leadership to other families, create spaces of belonging, and help rethink common understandings of activism.


Carey-Ann’s work sits at the intersection of research and activism. She believe that research should be community-driven and works with disabled people and families to produce new knowledge for creating diverse and inclusive communities. Carey-Ann is a mum to a young son who has Down syndrome.

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