Black Disabled and Proud

  1. Black History Month 2017: Donald Galloway, Disabled Social Worker Who Fought for Inclusion

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    Image of two disabled men strolling and rolling down an outdoor pathway. Man on the left is Donald Galloway, tall Black man with an afro with a guide dog by his side. Man on the right is Ed Roberts, white man who is in a wheelchair. Both men are facing the direction of the camera while in mid-stroll/roll.  Photo credit:  Ken Okuno.  

    For my last feature for Black History Month, I will spotlight the life of Donald Galloway, a man who was not hesitant to take on authorities when it came to the inclusion of disabled people.  Donald’s story resonated with me because he was a social worker like myself, and in reading his advocacy legacy, fighting for justice and inclusion is the call we answer as helping professionals.  As with many of the Black disabled social workers I know, our involvement in this movement is a unique mixture of ramping our voices while fulfilling the ethical duty we have as professionals.  Donald was no exception to this, and I felt that as we are nearing the end of Black History Month and about to begin Social Work Month (which is in March), telling his story will bridge the two worlds I am proud to be a part of.  

    Donald Galloway:  Using the Legal System to Demand Inclusion for All

    Donald was born in 1938 in Maryland, and became disabled at the age of 13 when he was injured in one eye while playing with a bow and arrow.  It was nerve damage due to a lack of proper medical attention to his injury that caused him to become blind in his other eye.  He moved from Maryland to California in his late teens, and it was in California where he received his post-secondary education.  He graduated with his Bachelor’s degree in 1967 at California State University at Los Angeles and obtained his Master’s in Social Work (MSW) degree in 1969 at California State University at San Diego.

    Kenneth Stein, who has shared images of some of the advocates featured this month, remembers working with Donald when he was the head of the Center for Independent Living’s (CIL) Research and Demonstration Project.  This project oversaw CIL’s Peer Counseling Project, and Joyce Jackson (who was our first feature this month) was one of the peer counselors.  Ken shared how this project was revolutionary because it was disabled people helping other disabled people navigate systems that disempowered them, and intervened as an intermediary between our community and those “god-awful” systems.  In his career, Donald would lead and be instrumental in the work of many disabled-centered organizations, both in California and when he returned back to Maryland later in life.

    Ken shared with me the logo cover he designed for the 47-page report about peer counseling for CIL. The design was placed on a sweet baby blue cardstock cover, typed on an old Selectric typewriter. At the top is clipart of two deers facing each other, with the following words beneath them: PEER COUNSELING AT THE CENTER FOR INDEPENDENT LIVING. A description of CIL’s Research and Demonstration Project.

    What struck me about Donald was that he was not afraid to take systems to task when he was unfairly discriminated against because he was disabled.  His first legal battle took place in 1991, when he was denied the opportunity to serve as a juror because he was blind.  He was told that a blind person would be unable to fulfill certain duties as a juror, such as observing the behavior and conduct of witnesses and reading the evidence provided.  Given his history within CIL and his educational background, Donald was not going to take this exclusion lightly.  He made the following statement about the false claims regarding his abilities:  

    “I don’t have to see a gun.  I could feel the gun or have someone describe it to me.  They are making the assumption that I can’t perceive or make judgments.”

    Donald won his case in 1993, when a U.S. District Judge ruled that blind people could not be automatically excluded from serving as jurors.  The ruling stated that exceptions were to be made on an individual basis (moreso for cases with an exceptional amount of documents to be reviewed).

    Donald experienced his second encounter with discrimination that lead to a legal battle when he was turned down for an administrative job with the Foreign Service because of his blindness.  He sued and reached a settlement with the government in that case.  In both legal incidences, he was refused inclusion by judicial and governmental entities, spaces where there should not have been room for ableism to exist.  It makes one wonder how entities that are suppose to uphold the laws or follow them to their full extent are the very ones failing to adhere and then become oppressive.  Even when we are given the rights we hold dear, it still is not enough; luckily Donald knew that what had been forced upon him was wrong and he was bold to stand up for what was just.  

    A Social Worker After My Own Heart

    Donald’s ability to use systems to fight against ableism and discrimination is a prime example of him living out the core values of the social work profession.  The core value that I discerned in reading Donald’s history is the one that drives my advocacy work:  social justice.  

    According to the Code of Ethics of Social Work:  

    Value: Social Justice

    Ethical Principle: Social workers challenge social injustice.

    Social workers pursue social change, particularly with and on behalf of vulnerable and oppressed individuals and groups of people. Social workers’ social change efforts are focused primarily on issues of poverty, unemployment, discrimination, and other forms of social injustice. These activities seek to promote sensitivity to and knowledge about oppression and cultural and ethnic diversity. Social workers strive to ensure access to needed information, services, and resources; equality of opportunity; and meaningful participation in decision making for all people.

    Donald exemplified this principle by seeking action to proclaim that he had a right to access needed information and services (in becoming a juror) and having equality of opportunity (being considered a viable candidate for an employment position).  He used his knowledge to pursue social change that not only mattered to him, but also to those in our community.  Social workers are taught to be advocates – we are suppose to serve and protect the most vulnerable and marginalized in our society.  For disabled social workers, we are in the distinct placement of both knowing intimately how systems disadvantage clients and being in the position to assist in efforts to abolish obstacles.  Donald’s work as an advocate for himself and others displayed how one juggles the identities of being disabled and a helping professional, something that goes unnoticed and underappreciated.  

    Final Thoughts

    Doing these write-ups of Black disabled people who were trailblazers in the earlier days of the movement impacted me in ways I did not expect.  What blew me away was the resounding appreciation of each story by those on social media.  It was particularly warming to see many non-disabled Black people state how much they valued discovering the lives of Joyce, Johnnie, Brad, and now Donald.  

    Black disability history is my history.  Black disability history IS Black history.  

    Respect and recognize our contributions to Black history because we have always been here, and will continue to battle against the “-isms” that oppresses and ostracizes us all.  We are Black excellence, we are Black pride, and we are unapologetically disabled.  

    (Featured headlining images:  Courtesy of Kenneth Stein & Ken Okuno.)

  1. Black History Month 2017: Brad Lomax, Disabled Black Panther

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    Image of 2 Black men outside wearing suits. Brad is on the left in his wheelchair and Greg is on the right crouching down. Both men are smiling for the camera.

    One Black disabled advocate from the past I have enjoyed writing about is Brad Lomax, who was a member of the Black Panther Party (BPP).  One of the reasons Brad’s story and involvement resonates with me is because of him confirming his unapologetic Blackness and disability.  He was a proud member of BPP and used his participation to urge the Party to become a part of a major time in disability rights history – demanding the passage of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act in 1973.

    I want to take a different angle in discussing Brad by focusing on the impact of the activism that led to the enactment of Section 504, and why Brad’s advocacy matters.  


  1. Black History Month 2017: Johnnie Lacy, Defiantly Black & Disabled

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    Image of Johnnie shown smiling directly into the camera. She is sitting in her wheelchair wearing a buttoned shirt, with an office desk to her left.

    Image of Johnnie shown smiling directly into the camera. She is sitting in her wheelchair wearing a buttoned shirt, with an office desk to her left.

    In continuing with my Black History Month focus on Black disabled leaders, I am proudly sharing the story of Johnnie Lacy, a woman who directed the Community Resources for Independent Living (CRIL) in Hayward, California for over a decade.  The photograph of Johnnie is from the collection of Kenneth Stein, an advocate with a passion for history and highlighting those forgotten trailblazers that rivals my own.


  1. Black History Month 2017: Remembering Joyce Jackson, Black, Disabled, & Phenomenal

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    Image of Joyce shown smiling, walking down the wide sidewalk in an Oct 20 t-shirt, with a large crowd of people with balloons and signs behind her. She is holding up the right side of a big banner that says "FULL RIGHTS FOR DISABLED PEOPLE -- IMPLEMENT 504."

    Image of Joyce shown smiling, walking down the wide sidewalk in an Oct 20 t-shirt, with a large crowd of people with balloons and signs behind her. She is holding up the right side of a big banner that says “FULL RIGHTS FOR DISABLED PEOPLE — IMPLEMENT 504.”

    For Black History Month 2017, I will feature the names, faces, and voices of Black disabled people who were a part of the influential advocacy efforts made during the heart of the Disability Rights Movement.  As I have stated on the blog, the erasure of Black disabled people from disability history is profound, and the same offenses are committed when we discuss Black history.  Taking action to correct these wrongs is a steadfast passion of my advocacy; these stories must be told so that Black disabled people will have disabled historical figures to look up to and be proud of.


  1. Luke Cage: The Black Disabled Superhero We Need

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    Dark yellow mustard background with Luke Cage in a wheelchair. The following words are in the upper right of the image: "I'm just getting started"

    Luke Cage was one of Netflix’s original series I had waited all summer to watch.  Being a blerd and someone who enjoys comics, I was proudly a part of the #Cagetember fandom seen on Twitter.  What excited me was not just Luke’s amazing abilities, but the fact that he was a Black disabled character, an existence that does not receive enough attention or respect within comic spaces.  Luke represents so much to disabled blerds like myself, and I felt that it would only be justly to share why Luke’s existence matters, and the need for more Black disabled characters.  


  1. Visiting The National Museum of African American History & Culture: My Disabled Blerd Thoughts

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    Me in front of the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture sign, with the building in the background.

    It is no secret how big of a disabled blerd (black nerd) I am, and my love for anything related to Black culture and history.  During my hiatus from the blog, I took a much-needed trip to Maryland, and over that week and a half, visited the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture that opened late September.  I went to the Museum with two of my awesome Black disabled advocates, and the three of us set out to explore the Museum that was for us, and has been the major talk within our community.


  1. When Black Deaf/Disabled Advocates Collaborate: The Harriet Tubman Collective

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    On Wednesday, the Harriet Tubman Collective released its statement regarding the Movement for Black Lives’ policy platform.  The Movement for Black Lives, also known as M4BL, launched its policy initiative August 1st, 2016, which highlights the disparities of Black Americans and provides a blueprint to stop the violence and oppression that Black people experience through 6 policy demands.


  1. #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:

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


    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:



  1. “Just Because We’re Magic Doesn’t Mean We’re Not Real”

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    Jesse Williams is not only one of my favorite actors on the hit TGIT show “Grey’s Anatomy,” but is also a vocal activist about the Black experience, inequality, and injustice in this country.  On Sunday night, Jesse delivered one of the most “woke” award speeches given when he received the Humanitarian Award at the 2016 BET Awards.  When I heard his speech, it made my heart almost leap out of my chest at the hard truth Jesse delivered to Black & White America.


  1. White Privilege & Inspiration Porn

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    Inspiration Porn

    Over the weekend, I noticed a lot of chatter on Facebook surrounding the story of Anaya Ellick, a 7 years old girl from Virginia who won a national penmanship contest.  Anaya is an African American girl who is a congenital amputee.  The contest she entered into and won was the Nicholas Maxim Special Award for Excellent Manuscript Penmanship.  Participants of the contest must be a student with a disability, and a team of occupational therapists judge the entries and award a winner.  Anaya beat out 50 other participants to receive this honor, and in the video below, you can watch Anaya accept the recognition, and hear from her mother and school administrators about her penmanship.

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