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#GetWokeADA26: Disabled People of Color Speak Out, Part 1

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White background with black text that reads: #GetWokeADA26 Disabled People of Color Speak Out, Part One. Vilissa Thompson and Alice Wong. On the left-hand side is an image of a Black Wonder Woman character in a wheelchair. She has rainbow wristbands and a golden lasso by her wheel. Image: Mike Mort @MikeeMort. On the lower right-hand side: Full report: RampYouVoice.com DisabilityVisibilityProject.com

#GetWokeADA26:  Disabled People of Color Speak Out, Part One
by Vilissa Thompson and Alice Wong

Introduction

On July 5th, we published the #GetWokeADA26 Call for Stories, asking for disabled people to share how the Americans with Disabilities Act has impacted their life experiences, gaps in the mandate that fail to support the unique challenges of disabled people or color, and the need for intersectionality in the disability community and how the lack of visibility affects this subgroup.  

As disabled women of color, we believe the disability community needs to ”get woke” on race, racism, and intersectionality.  The work of getting “woke” can be hard, awkward, and uncomfortable, but this is something disabled people of color expect and deserve.

For #GetWokeADA26, there were enormous responses to this project through the countless reblogging, sharing, and retweeting across the major social media platforms by disabled advocates, allies, and organizations.  In the two weeks that the Call was open, 50 individuals representing various people of color communities, disability types, ages, and sexual identities and orientations answered our request to share, and we were not disappointed by the rich, emotional, and direct responses to each question on our survey.  The data we were able to collect was extraordinary – there is so much that it is impossible to include everything in our summary, but we will capture the most poignantwerful and moving points of view shared.

What follows is a description of the themes of the survey questions askedn overview of the survey questions, the representation makeup ofa description of our participantsrespondents, and a breakdown of the responses by specific topics.

White background with black text that reads: #GetWokeADA26 “I am black. I am a woman. I am disabled. I am magic.” —Joi Meyer Brewer. On the left-hand side is an image of a Black Wonder Woman character in a wheelchair. She has rainbow wristbands and a golden lasso by her wheel. Image: Mike Mort @MikeeMort. On the lower right-hand side: Full report: RampYouVoice.com DisabilityVisibilityProject.com

 

Description of Survey

The online survey covered the following topics:

  • Impact of the ADA on disabled POC
  • Intersectionality and disability rights
  • Disability issues most pressing to disabled POC
  • Perspectives on racism, diversity, ableism, and inequality within the disability community
  • Recommendations:  Partnership and collaboration with disabled POC

The respondents represented many diverse communities, reflecting multiple communities and perspectives.  Here is a sample of how some respondents identified themselves:

  • “…loves the world with outrage and sass.”
  • Disabled Female Korean Adoptee.
  • “A Native American woman, mother, wife, grandmother, sister, auntie, daughter, niece, cousin, and friend who happens to be different and I do things differently because I have disabilities.”
  • “An Autistic Asian teenager who wants to make a change.”
  • “Latina, feminist, and Spoonie warrior, also a proud Planned Parenthood intern.”
  • “I am a pansexual Puerto Rican with a disability.”
  • “I’m a queer, black, autistic, disability advocate.”
  • “I’m an autistic Disabled Filipinx/White woman.”
  • “Black Disabled Lesbian.”
  • “I’m a Black man dedicated to Black liberation and living with a disability.”

Below is a summary of some major issues and themes from the survey respondents.  Deep gratitude to all who shared their stories with us!


Impact of the Americans with Disabilities Act

Many respondents described positive impacts the ADA had on their everyday lives in education, travel, physical access, employment, and accommodations.  The ADA also gave respondents a sense of pride, community, and legal protections.  Other respondents felt the ADA, as a law for disabled people, recognizes our entitlement to equal access and opportunity.  Some also remarked on how the ADA also provided opportunities for people to make a difference in their local communities.

White background with black text that reads: #GetWokeADA26 “The ADA makes my daily life bearable.” —Megan Kennedy. On the left-hand side is an image of a Black Wonder Woman character in a wheelchair. She has rainbow wristbands and a golden lasso by her wheel. Image: Mike Mort @MikeeMort. On the lower right-hand side: Full report: RampYouVoice.com DisabilityVisibilityProject.com

A few respondents felt little affinity toward the ADA, finding it inadequate or having a negative view of the law and its impact on their lives.


Positive impact on accessibility, accommodations, transportation, education, and employment

Lisa Dunkley, a Jamaican-American accommodations specialist who is visually impaired:

Although it has taken me longer to get my education and my 2 college degrees, the ADA has helped to make my education experience accessible. This includes everything from copiers that can enlarge print to CCTVs and screen magnifiers…The ADA has allowed me to show that I am much more than a person with a visual impairment.   

Megan Kennedy, a deaf Asian woman:

The ADA makes my daily life bearable. I use a service dog that is trained to alert me to sounds that I don’t hear…The ADA allows me to bring her wherever I go…making errands and routine tasks accessible and much less stressful for me because I know I can depend on her.

Aditi Juneja, a law student, sister, daughter, and Indian American with epilepsy:

It allows me to feel comfortable not telling employers I have seizures until I start working in an office. It also allows me to demand accommodations in grad school.

 

White background with black text that reads: #GetWokeADA26 “The ADA allows me to be a full citizen in all public places of life.” —Lateef McLeod. On the left-hand side is an image of a Black Wonder Woman character in a wheelchair. She has rainbow wristbands and a golden lasso by her wheel. Image: Mike Mort @MikeeMort. On the lower right-hand side: Full report: RampYouVoice.com DisabilityVisibilityProject.com


Impact on local communities

LaDonna Kirkaldie Fowler, a Native American woman with disabilities:

The impact was tremendous in my participating as a train the trainer back in the 1990s…I learned how to train others and then had the tremendous task of taking this to tribal governments and communities to present, educate, and help them to develop their own version of equal access and equal opportunity. My life’s work from that point on to advocate at all levels along with grassroots Native American advocates…

Elizabeth Rodriguez, self-described as an inspiration:

The ADA’s impact on my life has given me opportunities to get a higher education and also allow me to use my many different skills to change others lives.


Positive impact on self-advocacy, individual rights and sense of identity

Leanne Libas, an Autistic Asian teenager who wants to make a change:

I’m very fortunate to have the ADA. In fact, a lot of people are grateful for the ADA. If someone is not providing my accommodations, I would tell them about the ADA. The ADA is not only a way to acknowledge the disabled community, but to also demonstrate our rights.

Yolanda, a nerdy Latina Pansexual on wheels depression fighter:

Its [sic] allowed me to feel backed up in situations where someone might try to deny me access. Because I don’t have to rely on ethical or emotional appeals I have the law on my side.  

Ellen Erenea, a Filipina with dwarfism, mother of two:

The ADA has given me guidance from college to life as a parent with a disability with children with disabilities. It has shown me that we deserve to be treated equal, not out of pity, but because we should be provided safety and support to live a productive life.

Heather Watkins, disability advocate, mother, author, blogger, disabled WOC:

It has endowed me with a sense of empowerment and personal agency knowing the work of my forebears was so that I may know that I have a life worth living and not feel “better dead than disabled.”


Limitations of the ADA; Little or negative impact

Anonymous:

As a person struggling with overlapping “invisible disabilities,” I have only recently begun to realize the extent of ADA benefits and limitations as apply in employment…The little bit of information I have found leaves much to be desired.  

Jibril, a Deaf African:

ADA’s impact on my life is not that great. Seems like ADA protects private company and business before us.

Anonymous, an “ambiguously raced” queer asian woman:

zero. a hole where help should be

Reyma McCoy McDeid, African American Aspergian:

ADA focus is given to physical disability. I have a developmental disability and am told to “suck it up” when I encounter environs that aren’t necessarily accessible for me.


Disability Rights and People of Color

We asked disabled people of color what ‘disability rights’ means to them and we received a wide range of answers.  Some respondents described disability rights as civil rights and part of a larger global movement ensuring access to rights, services, and opportunities.  Other respondents described disability rights as a framework for discussion structural ableism and inequality.  Respondents also emphasized the importance of rights beyond access, about the larger emphasis of self-determination, autonomy, and recognition of one’s humanity.

White background with black text that reads: #GetWokeADA26 “Too often "civil rights" in the disability community does not include black people, except rhetorically or symbolically.” —Shawn, On the left-hand side is an image of a Black Wonder Woman character in a wheelchair. She has rainbow wristbands and a golden lasso by her wheel. Image: Mike Mort @MikeeMort. On the lower right-hand side: Full report: RampYouVoice.com DisabilityVisibilityProject.com

Several disabled people of color mentioned the limitations or tensions around a rights-based framework and how it excludes community-based cultures and communities of color.  Clearly, some disabled POC do not identify or relate to the concept of ‘disability rights.’


Disability rights as civil rights, as a global issue

Megan Kennedy, a deaf Asian woman:

Disability rights to me means acknowledging and actively working to understand, incorporate, and strengthen the voices, experiences, and bodies of disabled people across the globe.

 

White background with black text that reads: #GetWokeADA26 “Disability rights is a framework for talking about legal protections to counteract the structural ableism that is built in to our societies.” —Eb. On the left-hand side is an image of a Black Wonder Woman character in a wheelchair. She has rainbow wristbands and a golden lasso by her wheel. Image: Mike Mort @MikeeMort. On the lower right-hand side: Full report: RampYouVoice.com DisabilityVisibilityProject.com

 

Disability rights as a framework

Eb, an autistic Disabled Filipinx/White woman:

Disability rights is a framework for talking about legal protections to counteract the structural ableism that is built in to our societies.


Recognizing the humanity and diversity within

Kendrick Kemp Sr., a Black man dedicated to Black liberation and living with a disability:

This is a quandary living in my blackness with a disability: I have a multiplicity of oppressions because of my dark skin color and the effects of my double stroke which has me to walk with a cane and limited use of my right hand. Disability Rights is more than getting a ramp or an accessible door. It’s about respecting me as a human, not looking beyond my race and cane, but including them in my humanity.


Inclusion and access to rights, services, and opportunities

Judith Wilson Burkes, Community Disability Advocate and Nonprofit Founder:

Disability rights means that I have access to more than adequate medical, educational, housing and economic opportunities appropriate for my life and my family.


Self-determination, autonomy, and community integration

Finn, a queer, black, autistic, disability advocate:

My right to self-determination and full participation in society, both as a black person and as an autistic person.

 

White background with black text that reads: #GetWokeADA26 “Disability rights as a disabled person of color means that I can choose to live my life any way that I want to.” —Leanne Libas. On the left-hand side is an image of a Black Wonder Woman character in a wheelchair. She has rainbow wristbands and a golden lasso by her wheel. Image: Mike Mort @MikeeMort. On the lower right-hand side: Full report: RampYouVoice.com DisabilityVisibilityProject.com

 

Tension between community vs. individual rights

LaDonna Kirkaldie Fowler, a Native American woman with disabilities:

It is sometimes hard in a tribal community because individual rights is not spouted as much as tribal or community…and many times we are viewed as someone to be taken care of rather than someone who can care for themselves if given equal access and equal opportunity.


Exclusion of disabled POC in disability rights

Anonymous, an African-American female, with a disabling illness:

Little to nothing since there seems to be no inclusion of people of color in “disability rights.”

Lateesha Golden, a shy epileptic:

Denied, Denied, Denied!

 

Racism, Discrimination, Violence, and Ableism

Not enough is known about the lives, wants, and needs of disabled people of color.  When asked about their intersectional experiences, respondents in our survey shared stories about the complexities of the lived experiences of disabled POC.  Respondents talked about their childhood; experiences in all-White or non-disabled environments; the impact of stereotypes and discrimination; and incidents of profiling, harassment, abuse, and microaggressions.

 

Childhood experiences

Mary Lee Vance, Disabled Female Korean Adoptee:

Growing up adopted in an all white and able bodied environment, I have been in the eye of the storm constantly. Many times I wondered why certain people liked me, or didn’t like me. I was told I was a cute little “chink,” so was liked because I was cute. I was told I couldn’t visit a friends home, because her father hated “japs,” so I was disliked because I looked Japanese. I was called “hop along cassidy,” and was tripped, so wasn’t liked because I walked funny. I was given free tickets to the circus by the Shriners, so they pitied me. I was called a “hero,” and “amazing” because I lived and breathed, but walked funny. I was also pitied, and told I could never do much, and should not have any aspirations.


Stereotypes, Profiling, Harassment, Abuse

Anonymous, self-described as “I am DISABLED #SayTheWord”:

It can be a triple whammy sometimes. At any time I can be told “To go back to my country” I feel like thats [sic] made even worse by my disability. Because to white male in this country not only am I an immigrant, Im [sic] an immigrant leeching of the government because of my disability.

White background with black text that reads: #GetWokeADA26 “I am perceived as both someone who constantly needs care or assistance, but is also scary and dangerous, which is a weird dichotomy...” —Eric. On the left-hand side is an image of a Black Wonder Woman character in a wheelchair. She has rainbow wristbands and a golden lasso by her wheel. Image: Mike Mort @MikeeMort. On the lower right-hand side: Full report: RampYouVoice.com DisabilityVisibilityProject.com

 

Zarifa Roberson, an African American Woman with a Disability:

As an African American Woman with a Disability who is bisexual… All of my identities are pressing issues in my life on how people perceived me based on my race and disability.

Rachel Lovejoy, a disabled single mother of 2:

White people, usually over 55 tend to interview me, grill me and outright accuse me of not being disabled when I park in a handicap space. I’m expected to prove myself to non-official white folks who don’t even know what MS is or worse, say, “oh yeah, Jerry’s Kids”. It’s offensive and tiresome. I mean, little old ladies have accused me of stealing my parking decal. It’s because I’m blackity-black, y’all

Anonymous, an “ambiguously raced” queer asian woman:

…much of the trauma is race-related.  I was targeted and tortured by someone who did not see me as a human being because of my race. much of the abuse was intentionally racist in nature.  so for me, my disability is in direct response to my ethnicity and gender.


Workplace and employment experiences

Anonymous:

Not only until I assumed an administrative position on my campus did i realize how easily inequitable a typical work environment can be.  Despite my outspokenness on the subject of disability, this was also the first time I realized the power of the stigma against mental illness, neuro-atypical characteristics,  and chronic pain disorders.  Powerful enough to keep me “closeted.”  Combined with my status as a Black woman, I figured that I would be presumed incompetent in any case.

Jibril, a Deaf African:

As well as deaf favoritism and racism is rampant. As a deaf poc, I have faced racism and condescending people because I’m black and can never get credited nor recognized for the work I do.

* * * 

For #GetWokeADA26: Disabled People of Color Speak Out, Part Two by Vilissa Thompson and Alice Wong, go to:

http://disabilityvisibilityproject.com/2016/07/25/getwokeada26/

Part 2 will cover the following topics:

  • Intersectionality and Disabled People of Color
  • Disabled People of Color and the Disability Community
  • Recommendations to Disability Organizations and Communities
  • Need for More Representation of Disabled People of Color
  • Conclusions


*If you reference or quote from this report, please use the suggested citations:

Thompson, V. & Wong, A. (July 26, 2016). #GetWokeADA26: Disabled People of Color Speak Out, Part One. Ramp Your Voice! http://wp.me/p3Ov4P-FA

Thompson, V. & Wong, A. (July 26, 2016). #GetWokeADA26: Disabled People of Color Speak Out, Part Two. Ramp Your Voice! Disability Visibility Project. http://disabilityvisibilityproject.com/2016/07/25/getwokeada26/

**Special thanks to artist Mike Mort who created the Wonder Woman image and allowed us to use it for #GetWokeADA26!

About Vilissa Thompson, LMSW

Vilissa is the Founder & CEO of Ramp Your Voice!, an organization she created to establish herself as a Disability Rights Consultant & Advocate. Ramp Your Voice! is a prime example of how macro-minded Vilissa truly is, and her determination to leave a giant "tire track mark" on the world.

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