Simi Linton. Activist and author. Dancer and scholar. Poised at the front line of a revolution. Shaping our understanding of disability and the arts, and the dynamic nature of identity itself.
As a girl you never stopped dancing around. As a young adult you took on the civil rights movement and the war in Vietnam. Kinetic and committed—those were the roots from which you never veered, for there was work to do. New York City in the early 70s for a 23-year old wheelchair user trying to shape a new life simply wasn’t ideal. Curbs that weren’t cut, classes you couldn’t get to, elevators you couldn’t ride, bathroom stalls that wouldn’t close. Restaurants, polling places, and libraries without access. No role models, and fewer road maps.
You left New York for Berkeley and there, in the radicalized center of the disability universe, you looked at your own experience in a new way. The Society of Disability Studies was bringing academics, activists, and artists together, and you started writing your book, Claiming Disability. You also started to ask for things, not just for yourself but based on principle. It was a field and a movement and you were at its center, pushing past labels, shifting the burden, insisting on inclusion. It is no surprise that you were the chief plaintiff in the Taxis for All Campaign, leading to this victory: a 50% wheelchair accessible fleet by 2020.
Today, a quarter century after the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed by Congress, we couldn’t be prouder to welcome you back to Morningside Heights. You studied at Columbia and here at Barnard, consulted with our Office of Disability Services, and gave the introduction to the GIMP Project dance performance at the Scholar & Feminist Conference in 2011. Repeatedly by your own example, you encourage us to keep working at issues of equity, to find strong and sure ways to communicate our messages, to come together to break down barriers—to instigate, integrate… and ultimately, share the stage.
You have given disability activism a place in the academy, and people with disabilities a place on the dance floor. On behalf of my alma mater, I am honored to present you, Simi Linton, with the 2015 Barnard Medal of Distinction, along with our promise to continue the fight.