Wikipedia’s disability project

Students in my course “Health, Disability, and Media” are currently editing Wikipedia entries around disability. Wikipedia has a WikiProject focused on disability (read about it here). While some students are addressing issues noted on that WikiProject’s page, others are taking up the challenge of reframing entire entries that may lean toward a medical model over a social model, for example, or that may privilege established medical knowledge and ignore the situated knowledge generated within disability communities. The question of what constitutes a neutral point of view (one of Wikipedia’s core principles) has already been questioned by feminist scholars of digital culture (e.g., here and here); this question extends into, but becomes even more complicated, when we consider that Wikipedia is attempting to mirror Western medical knowledge, which many people in disability communities argue is never neutral and has an oppressive effect on the lives of people with disabilities. Furthermore, while Wikipedia has made efforts to address issues of systemic bias around gender, global location, education, and race (among others), the site does not explicitly name disability representation as a problem. When we add people with disabilities to the mix, it becomes clear that if women’s knowledge is not well represented on Wikipedia — or that of people of color, of the Global South, and so forth — then the knowledge of women with disabilities is even less likely to be represented on the site. I’ll be updating this page with more insights into what my students’ projects reveal as the semester goes along.

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