Reflecting on Freedom for All in the Disability Community
Addressing Issues Facing BIPOC with Disabilities
When we say “freedom,” what comes to mind?
Is it flags waving in the summer heat as fireworks illuminate the sky above with red, white, and blue starbursts? It’s an iconic image! For so long, we celebrated July 4th as the only Independence Day for the USA, a time to embrace freedom and celebrate patriotism.
But that left out a massive portion of our population who did not experience freedom after July 4th, 1776.
Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. It celebrates the day – June 19, 1865 – when enslaved people of Texas, then the most remote region of the Confederacy, learned slavery had been abolished and that they were finally free.
As Juneteenth approaches this year, we’re thinking about that oversight of freedom and honoring the millions of lives lost to racism and cruelty in our country.
Juneteenth reminds us that the initial recognition of American freedom did not include everyone. We want to take a moment to illuminate ways that we could still be doing better for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) with disabilities and the way they’ve had to fight for their freedom in our communities.
The Intersection of Race & Disability
The CDC reports that roughly 1 in 4 Americans have a disability, about 61 million of us. Some reports indicate that 20% of people with disabilities in the US are BIPOC. The result is a cross-section of millions of people who experience the world through the lens of multiple identities that are marginalized.
It’s a perspective we don’t hear about enough, and it’s our responsibility to elevate those voices in our communities. We need to understand what challenges children who are both disabled and BIPOC face, and how to help them thrive.
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Adults with Disabilities: Ethnicity & Race
Availability of Disability Resources for BIPOC Children
“People with disabilities have always been excluded from the bounty of our nation’s resources. Minorities with disabilities, in particular, have been the most disenfranchised of the disenfranchised in our society.”
-Hon. Rev. Jesse Jackson, National Rainbow Coalition
To understand the intersectionality of race and disability and the disproportionate disadvantages disabled BIPOC experience, there’s another cross-section that we need to layer in: poverty.
Across racial identities, people with disabilities are more likely to experience poverty. A devastating 37% of African Americans with disabilities and just under 30% of Hispanic and Latino people with disabilities live in poverty.
People with the highest needs often have the least resources available to them. While money can’t buy happiness, it’s crucial for having and maintaining a home, seeking medical treatment, furthering education, and enjoying life without undue stress. It impacts every aspect of life as we know it.
A safe and stable home is crucial to a good education and a prosperous future. Unfortunately, this is not a privilege many BIPOC children with disabilities experience.
Forbes tells us that about 40% of homeless people in the US are black. The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, as cited in Policy Advice, found that 38.6% of sheltered homeless individuals are disabled. Meanwhile, HUD Exchange explains that children account for approximately 1 in 5 homeless individuals.
Even people with disabilities who have homes face abundant challenges. Covey reports that, in 2020, over half of all housing discrimination complaints involved people with disabilities. This means that, despite the protections assured in the Fair Housing Act, people with disabilities were:
- Denied the opportunity to rent or purchase housing
- Charged more for their security deposits or rent simply because of their disability
- Refused reasonable accommodations like a service animal or special parking space
There are still disproportionate barriers to obtaining housing for BIPOC with disabilities. For kids, this may translate to homelessness, missed educational opportunities, inadequate support, hunger, and more.
Shelter is a key pillar to survival, and we need to do better to empower BIPOC with disabilities through equitable housing.
Education often sets the stage for a child’s future. It’s where they learn, make friends, build social skills, and discover their personalities. BIPOC children with disabilities often have more obstacles in their path to learning, though.
“Children with disabilities are often disproportionately and unfairly suspended and expelled from school and educated in classrooms separate from their peers. Children of color with disabilities are overrepresented within the special education population, and the contrast in how frequently they are disciplined is even starker.”
– John B. King Jr., Former U.S. Secretary of Education and President of the Education Trust
The consequences of education disparities carry strong implications into adulthood. Adults with disabilities tend to have lower levels of education than those without a disability, especially among BIPOC communities, and their employment prospects suffer. Without access to adequate and equitable education, the cycle of employment discrimination, housing discrimination, and the threat of poverty continues.
Thankfully, evidence shows a slight upward trend in graduation rates that will hopefully continue.
How to Make an Impact
The confluence of circumstances portrayed here is bleak, but it represents the bountiful opportunities we have to do more, do better, and do it now. Here’s how we can immediately start making an impact to dismantle the barriers BIPOC children with disabilities are facing.
Include People with Disabilities in Your Diversity Efforts
Pursuing racial equity requires the input of people with disabilities. Even seemingly successful efforts to amend racial disparities have proven to fall short when disability is absent from the conversation. Take, for example, a California cause focused on keeping BIPOC out of prison:
“The Stanford Justice Advocacy Project found that heralded criminal-justice changes in the state had achieved much, cutting the prison population by 25 percent in a decade. But over the same time, the number of prisoners with mental illness increased by a quarter. What seemed promising, the report concluded, failed because individuals with disabilities hadn’t been considered.”
– Excerpt from Race and Disability: A New Reckoning by Disability & Philanthropy Forum
The lesson here is that intersectionality cannot be ignored. For all people to experience equity, we have to consider the nuance of their layered experiences racially, socially, medically, and beyond. As you plan your programming or set your sights on improving your diversity, make sure kids with disabilities are top of mind too.
Consult BIPOC in Your Disability Inclusion Efforts
The lesson of broadening your scope is two-fold. Not only do we need to include people with disabilities in diversity conversations, but we need to ensure racial diversity in our efforts to serve the disabled community.
“Disability rights initiatives have often taken a colorblind approach. And then diversity initiatives do not tend to think of disability as an aspect of diversity. Disabled people of color are stuck in the middle because our needs cannot be met through a single-issue lens. Rather an intersectional focus is needed to understand how our multiple identities impact our lives.”
– Dr. Angel Miles, a policy expert at Access Living in Chicago in Disability & Philanthropy Forum
As we’ve discussed, disability is prevalent across marginalized racial groups. So, programming for kids with disabilities should be welcoming for everyone no matter the color of their skin. To make a welcoming space for kids from all backgrounds, reach out to these communities to understand their needs, or take further education in understanding what they value.
Go Where Other Programs Don’t
We know that resources are not equally available to people with disabilities in all geographical areas. However, there is a way to bridge resource gaps in your community.
“By being intentional in having a disability inclusive approach, we can foster equity and justice for all marginalized communities.”
– Ryan Easterly, Executive Director of the WITH Foundation
When planning your programming, focus on locations that need your support the most. Survey the locations of other available programs, and see which areas get left out. Make the effort to promote your after-school program, summer camp, or event in these areas that are not typically served by disability resources. You’ll expand the scope of care in your community, and likely improve your enrollment numbers too!
Consider Grants & Financial Aid
Hosting excellent programming often requires funding and resources like volunteers, donations, time, etc. Poverty can make paying admission fees or activity costs impossible for parents, limiting kids with disabilities from growth-oriented experiences.
“Students with the highest needs are often living in the poorest communities, many of which lack robust school-based services. A report issued by the U.S. Department of Education found that low-quality schools are disproportionately located in low-income areas, where quality special education services and supports may not be readily available.”
– The New Jersey Council on Developmental Disabilities, Common Ground
When possible, pursue grants that bolster a scholarship fund for your programs or offer financial aid to students. This will ensure that people of all financial backgrounds have a chance to be included, dismantling one of the disproportionate barriers facing BIPOC with disabilities.
Work with KIT
Intersectional inclusion is a non-negotiable pillar of our mission at KIT. It’s a daily commitment to our communities. Disability is normal and our differences are something to celebrate, not punish or discourage.
We’ve built courses around all the subjects that help you prioritize inclusion at all times, everywhere. Whether you join us in a 21-Day Race Equity and Identity Habit Building Challenge or you sign on to explore our constantly-growing curriculum, we’re honored to be alongside you as you pursue meaningful change.
Happy Juneteenth from everyone here at KIT!