Dom Kelly


Project Overview

New Disabled South is the first and only regional organization spearheading issue advocacy, community organizing, and coalition-building focused on disabled populations. Providing a political home for disabled people in the South, this organization leverages both traditional and novel engagement methods to reach disabled people who are often ignored by other civic groups and empower them to become mobilized around key issues.

Five Questions

1What needs does New Disabled South address and how?

New Disabled South is working to achieve justice and liberation for all disabled people in the South in our lifetimes. Through grassroots organizing, policy advocacy, strategic communications, research, and coalition-building, we are working to build disabled political power and achieve both narrative change and policy change around disability in 14 Southern states.

2Tell us about a moment that helped inspire your idea.

In 2020 I was working at a voting rights organization in Georgia and witnessed firsthand the impact of voter suppression on my community. 10-hour-long lines, absentee voter challenges, intimidation—disabled folks seemed to face the brunt of it. As I started to talk to other disabled folks in the South, I realized that so many of the challenges we faced in Georgia—whether around voting, policy, healthcare access, and many other issues—were the same as other states. That was when I realized that if progressive change was going to happen, we needed to come together and organize.

3What is the biggest challenge you face right now?

We know that every issue is a disability issue because disabled people live at every intersection, but it’s often difficult to convince other movement organizations to be inclusive of disabled people. In our work and more broadly in the disability community, it is an uphill battle to get the broader social justice ecosystem to think about accessibility and look at their work through a disability justice lens. Once we can break through that, I believe we can start to see real progressive change in this country.

4What other leaders have informed your work?

I consider myself a student of disability justice, so the queer and BIPOC disabled organization Sins Invalid led by Patty Berne, Mia Mingus, and others—who are responsible for developing the disability justice framework—are absolutely leaders in this space that continually inform every bit of work we do. I’ve also been inspired by my wife, a successful business owner, who as a Black woman working in a predominantly white field has shown me how to bring an idea to reality despite the odds of success being against you. She’s the kind of leader I strive to be.

5Describe a participant, client, community member, or someone else who represents what your project is all about.

Mary Fashik is a friend of mine and a disabled activist living in Brunswick, Georgia—the rural coast. She’s a fierce fighter for disability justice and also experiences the reality of being a multiple marginalized disabled person living in the South with very little structural support. Our system of government has failed her, but despite that, she keeps fighting for more. She’s not alone in that, either. Disabled people in this region are forced to be strong advocates due to failure of leadership at all levels, and that’s the exact kind of power we are looking to build in the South.

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