Thiele, who lives with cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, was told prior to her appointment that there would be a lift to assist her onto the exam table. But when she got there, they could not accommodate her in her wheelchair.

“It’s kind of wrong and sad that in our day and age, the technologies that they might have — you know, the simple things, there just in case — aren’t there,” Thiele said.

Thiele and her caregiver, Mary Esquivel, were speaking to the students in Clark’s “Care Work: Disability Justice & Healthcare,” a course designed for nursing and other health care-related majors that was offered for the first time at UCLA this winter quarter. During the 10 sessions, students explored different models of disability care and the disability justice movement.

“I think this is an important historical moment to influence a group of students,” Clark said in an interview outside of class, pointing to a new social justice movement around disability advocacy that is gaining momentum and picking up where the disability rights activists of previous decades left off. Moving away from formal channels of legal action and policy change, the contemporary movement is instead turning to community building to ensure access and support for those living with disabilities, she added. In action, this looks something like that second-to-last class.

“There’s a famous saying in the disability community: ‘nothing about us without us,’” said Clark, who was thrilled that community members like Thiele joined the class that day.

Thiele, who is involved with Momentum (formerly the United Cerebral Palsy of Los Angeles and now a partner of UCLA), was joined by five other Momentum members — who attended via Zoom — eager to share their experiences and ideas for students to become health care professionals more clinically adept at working with disabled people.

A labor of love

For Clark, disability justice is more than just the focus of her class.

“My interest in disability and care comes from a personal place,” said Clark, who has an adult son with an intellectual disability. Navigating the health care system and its challenges “was hard work for our family and very hard work for our son.”