ow does infrastructure materialize norms of able-bodiedness and able-mindedness? What would it look like to instead construct infrastructure that “materializes the principles of disability justice” (Hamraie, 2018: 456)?  In this essay, I spotlight critical disability scholarship that crips infrastructure, upending settled understandings of the relationship between the disabled bodymind and infrastructure in service of liberatory disability politics. “Crip” is a positionality and a reading practice rooted in the disruption of compulsory able-bodiedness and able-mindedness (Kafer, 2013; McRuer, 2006). It celebrates disabled ways of being at the same time as it complicates settled definitions of disability. Cripping infrastructure, then, refers to an analytical practice that politicizes the relationship between disabled bodyminds and infrastructure, excavating how infrastructure unevenly materializes compulsory able-bodiedness and able-mindedness and how infrastructure’s world-making capabilities can be utilized to materialize crip alternatives. As I will examine, scholarship such as Lauren Forlano’s work on cyborgs and intimate infrastructure (2017), Aimi Hamraie’s reimagining of access mapping (2018), and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s care webs (2018) exemplify the spatial and infrastructural analysis already embedded in crip critiques of the built environment. They offer a literature of crip infrastructuralism and a model for much-needed future scholarship attentive to infrastructure’s materialization of dis/abled bodyminds. 

The Disabled Cyborg

The cyborg, a human-machine hybrid popular in science fiction, has been a central figure for theorizing the imbrication of bodies and machines and offers a potential site for substantively engaging the relationship between disability and infrastructure. In “A Cyborg Manifesto” (2000), Donna Haraway invokes the cyborg to conceptualize the non-innocent intimacy between bodies and technologies, the blasphemous intermixing which has its roots in militaristic and colonial power but also has disruptive potential to complicate discrete identity categories and entangle the material and the ideological at the level of the body. The infrastructural cyborg, which recognizes that questions of infrastructure are not only material and conceptual but also embodied, offers grounds for theorizing the relationship between disabled bodies and infrastructure. However, the cyborg’s ability to convey the multitude of possible relations between a diverse array of bodies and technologies is not a given. This concern is expressed by feminist disability scholar Alison Kafer (2013), who critiques Haraway’s treatment of the paraplegic body as self-evidently cyborgian, a paragon of body-and-machine hybridity that requires no further interpretation (Kafer 2013; Haraway 2000: 313-14). As Kafer argues, such an assumption depoliticizes disabled people, assuming the relationship between the disabled bodymind and machines and divorcing them from feminist practices that seek to radically reimagine the cyborg. Rather than rejecting the cyborg entirely, however, Kafer argues that cripping the cyborg can be a useful intervention for disability studies—as long as the cyborg is not only and naturally linked to disabled bodies. For Kafer: “Cripping the cyborg, developing a non-ableist cyborg politics, requires understanding disabled people as cyborgs not because of our bodies (e.g. our use of prosthetics, ventilators, or attendants), but because of our political practices” (2013: 120). 

I propose Kafer’s intervention as a helpful starting point for thinking through crip approaches to infrastructure. If Haraway’s cyborg opens up the complex relationship between (able) bodies and infrastructure, a cripped view of the cyborg highlights the particular politicized relationships disabled people develop alongside their intimate relations to infrastructure. These relationships are exemplified in Lauren Forlano’s “Data Rituals in Intimate Infrastructures: Crip Time and the Disabled Cyborg Body as an Epistemic Site of Feminist Science” (2017), in which Forlano explores the rich knowledges disabled bodyminds produce in their intimate interactions with infrastructure. Forlano, a Type I diabetic who relies on an insulin pump and continuous glucose monitor to manage her blood sugar, writes from her position as a disabled cyborg, one who “exists within, between, and out of sync with intimate infrastructures in which the world collapses onto the body and, at the same time, the body expands out into the world” (2017: 3). As a cyborgian member of this intimate system, Forlano cultivates practices she calls “data rituals” (2017: 4), in which she partners with her assistive devices to interpret the data produced about her body. These rituals include making time within able-bodied time constraints to check her glucose monitor, eating at her own pace, and even sharing her personal data with loved ones, fostering community and care around a supposedly individual practice (2017: 20, 23). Rather than assuming a passive dependence on her intimate infrastructures, Forlano’s data rituals exemplify crip infrastructural relationships that carve space for diabetic spatial and temporal practices out of ableist arrangements of space and time. Like Kafer, Forlano offers a crip model for understanding the meeting place between infrastructure and the (disabled) body as a contestable space where new knowledges can be produced and the disruption of able-bodied norms—as well as the infrastructure that materializes them—can occur. 


Disability scholarship also models a cripped approach to infrastructure in its complex engagement with access to the built environment, as evidenced by Aimi Hamraie’s “Mapping Access” (2018), a digital mapping project that reimagines how access to built environments is measured, studied, and visualized. Hamraie’s project, including their concept of sociospatial practices, offers crip conceptual infrastructure for understanding access knowledge as imperative spatial knowledge. At Map-a-Thon events, Vanderbilt students, faculty, and staff collected data on accessibility features for buildings across Vanderbilt’s campus. Data collection was guided by building surveys that drew on the spatial reading practices disabled people already employ when assessing whether a building will be accessible. Rather than assess accessibility solely in terms of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) codes and regulations, which render access as a static state of compliance, disabled modes of spatial reading were prioritized as a central lens through which to read infrastructure. Alongside a checklist of ADA-compliant features, participants answered open-ended questions that invited them to consider the experience of using a space, including access needs like all-gender bathrooms and fragrance-free spaces that fall outside the normative model of disability which guides ADA codes. The finished visualization produces a digital map that can be continuously updated with intersectional access data about buildings across Vanderbilt’s campus. Collecting and visualizing data so that access is an ongoing question, rather than an easily settled answer, Hamraie offers a framework for examining access both spatially and relationally, what they refer to as a “sociospatial practice” (2018: 468). With such an approach, access as a spatial concern is framed as an ongoing set of relations between disabled people, able-bodied people, and the built environment which can never fully be settled. Access, disability, and infrastructure can thus be approached in dynamic terms, with the potential to challenge ableist norms built into infrastructures.

In a previous iteration of the “Investigating Infrastructures” forum, Terri-Lynn Langdon (2017) further complicates access as a spatial concern, challenging the assumption that access to public infrastructure is an unqualified benefit. Langdon writes of the infrastructure-level ableism they experience navigating Toronto’s public transportation services as a wheelchair-user. Many transportation options are simply not available to them, but even supposedly accessible options are not created with speed or ease for disabled people in mind. Instead, these alternative routes inflict additional punishment on users barred from more convenient public transportation: “The accessible route is often the long, hidden route in dark passages and corners. This is a waste of time, an anti-time, a time-debt invented by able-bodied people” (Langdon, 2017). Here Langdon attends to the spatial and temporal facets of access, the time that supposedly accessible infrastructure eats up as it reserves convenience and expediency for able-bodied and able-minded people, performing the “temporal work” (Tawil-Souri, 2017: 387) of shoring up able-bodiedness and able-mindedness as the primary audience to design for. What makes “accessible” infrastructure is not a straightforward question, then, as the existence of accessible infrastructure options may still enforce compulsory able-bodiedness and able-mindedness.  


Scholarship on debility also calls attention to infrastructure that restricts or facilitates mobility, while simultaneously engaging in a crip-adjacent practice of complicating disability as a subject position. Jasbir Puar (2017) utilizes the term “debility” in order to recognize the incapacities imposed by colonial infrastructure in the context of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Whereas, Puar argues, disability constructed in a western context is narrowly defined around access to build environments, debility is more broadly concerned with injuries and immobility caused by colonial violence. Puar attends to the violences of war and work that impede mobility even for those who might otherwise be considered able-bodied (2017: 74), a framework under which every Palestinian is debilitated by virtue of Israeli occupation (2017: 158-9). Puar’s intervention complicates the dis/abled binary, undercutting its assumption of a white, western, middle-class disabled subject. She highlights the ways in which infrastructure is a key site of colonial warfare, restricting movement and inflicting debilitating injuries, while serving as one technology in a larger colonial project. When access is a question of “access to health itself” (Puar, 2017: xv), infrastructure must be conceived in tandem with the colonial forces that structure debility. The answer to making infrastructure more accessible in the context of debility is thus inseparable from ending colonial occupation and its violence (2017:157-8).

Experimental Infrastructure

Finally, cripping infrastructure encompasses the experimental care infrastructures that disabled communities—primarily queer and trans disabled people of color —have dreamed and implemented in radical crip formations. Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s work on care webs (2018) is one example of crip infrastructure that re-spatializes how we distribute access and care. With a care “web,” Piepzna-Samarasinha offers a model that locates care not in a state-controlled model of paid attendant services but in an autonomous, interdependent network of relations maintained by and for queer and trans disabled people of color who understand care to be a collective practice. 

Aligning with AbdouMaliq Simone’s concept of “people as infrastructure” (2004), which extends infrastructure to encompass not only material technologies, but also to the informal social arrangements marginalized people maintain to survive, the web structure—in which disabled people and their allies care for each other in a mutual display of solidarity and shared resources—models a care infrastructure built on disability justice principles like interdepen-dence, slowness, and sustainability. It also instantiates a politically powerful site for crip community building and organizing (Piepzna Samarasinha, 2018: 45). Bringing people together for care work forges new connections and new knowledges, creating the potential for what Lauren Berlant (2016) might refer to as the “terms of transition” (2016: 394). The care web model is not perfect, however. Many of the care webs Piepzna-Samarasinha cites end up dissolving, and they raise unresolved questions about what to do when the care web structure does not work for everyone, like those who do not have social capital or who prefer care from paid attendants. But its existence still opens a space of possibility, a site where those who yearn to exceed the bounds of our ableist present can experiment with cripped care infrastructures that do not abuse or exploit those giving or receiving care, or reinforce compulsory able-bodiedness and able-mindedness; cripped infrastructures that, in Piepzna-Samarasinha’s words, materialize “revolutionary love without charity” (2018: 33). 



Berlant L (2016) The Commons: Infrastructures for Troubling Times. Society and Space 34(3):393-419.
Forlano L (2017) Data Rituals in Intimate Infrastructures: Crip Time and the Disabled Cyborg Body as an Epistemic Site of Feminist Science. Catalyst: Feminism, Theory, Technoscience 3(2):1-28. 
Hamraie A (2018) Mapping Access: Digital Humanities, Disability Justice, and Sociospatial Practice. American Quarterly 70(3): 455-482. 
Haraway D (2000) A Cyborg Manifesto. In: Bell D and Kennedy BM (eds) The Cybercultures Reader. London: Routledge, pp. 291-324. 
Kafer A (2013) Feminist, Queer, Crip. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 
Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarsinha L (2018) Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice. Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press. 
Langdon T (2017) ‘Public’ Transit For ‘Every-Body’? Invisabilizing Bodies Of Difference. Society and Space (Investigating Infrastructures Forum), 3 October, 17. 
McRuer R (2006) Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability. New York: NYU Press. 
Puar J (2017) The Right to Maim: Debility, Capacity, Disability. Durham: Duke University Press. 
Simone AM (2004) People as Infrastructure: Intersecting Fragments in Johannesburg. Public Culture 16(3):407-429. 
Tawil-Souri H (2017) Checkpoint Time. Qui Parle 26(2):383-422.
Wilson A (2016) The Infrastructure of Intimacy. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 41(2):247-280. 



Emily Ehrensperger is an MA student with the Women and Gender Studies Institute at the University of Toronto. Her research focuses on feminist and crip technoscience approaches to data and data visualization.