Headlining Disability News

  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.  

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  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.

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  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.

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  1. The Woodland Hills High School-to-Prison Pipeline

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    Image of a group of protestors outside of a school building holding signs to show solidarity to the injustice committed to a disabled student.

    The intersection of race and disability is often ignored when we discuss the injustices that disadvantage disabled students of color within our schools.  This oversight can mean grave consequences to students who live within these margins.  The school-to-prison pipeline disproportionately impacts disabled students of color (especially Black disabled students), yet very few are addressing what occurs in our schools; a recent incident in Pittsburgh caught my attention as being yet another example of how we are failing to advocate for and protect Black disabled students.  

    On Twitter, disability rights advocate Dustin Gibson shared details about a Black disabled student at Woodland Hills High being victimized and dehumanized by his principal.  Dustin is a revolutionary in training in Pittsburgh that has centered his identity as a Black man with bipolar disorder in his work.  He builds with people impacted by systems both locally and nationally.  Organizing with the perspective that the people closest to the impact are closest to the solution, many of his efforts are grassroot.  

    I asked Dustin if he would tell the story of the Woodland Hills incident, the connections between racism and ableism, and why Black disabled lives matter.  Here are his words:  

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  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.  

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  1. If I Die in Police Custody…

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    [Content warning:  death, police murder, swearing]

    If I die in police custody,
    I died a soldier, a warrior, a hell-raiser, an instigator, a maker of the good trouble.  

     

    If I die in police custody,
    Make them respect my disabilities in the news reports.  Don’t dare let them erase a damn thing.  I am unapologetically Black and disabled.

     

    If I die in police custody,
    Don’t weep for me.  You better NOT shed one fucking tear.
    My name means “to love and cherish life” in French.
    That’s what you are to do for me – share about the love I gave you and how much I cherished the little and big things.

    Don’t play that weak ass sad music at my funeral.  Play Beyonce’s “7/11,” Rihanna’s “S&M,” N SYNC, Britney Spears, Nicki Minaj, anything by Lil Jon & the Eastside Boyz – that is how you are to celebrate my life at my funeral.  

     

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

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    htc-ryv-post-2

    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.

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  1. Letters For Jerika: Showing Up for Jerika Bolen

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    Over the past month, I have been following the story of Jerika Bolen, a young disabled teen who has made the decision to end her life due to living in incredible pain from her disability.  Jerika’s story has lit a fiery discussion within the community about assisted suicide, and the choice she has undertaken about her life.  

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  1. Being a Black Disabled Woman Is An Act of Defiance: Remembering #KorrynGaines

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    Remembering Korryn Gaines

    Being a Black disabled woman in America is a sheer act of defiance.  

    What brought me to this statement was the gross amounts of ableism, racism, and misogynoir I witnessed and read last week during the coverage surrounding Korryn Gaines’ encounter and death at the hands of the police.  

    Korryn’s existence represents me – a Black disabled woman.  Korryn had a developmental disability due to lead exposure from living in housing that had toxic lead paint levels.  Korryn’s life and death made me think back to what I had written about Blackness and police brutality last month regarding Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.  

    To be Black, disabled, and female means that you always have eyes on you.  You must be “on” at all times; must be willing to “perform” for White, Black, & non-disabled Americas.  You must be perfect and a good cripple, or be crucified at the cross, as we saw when Korryn’s story unfolded.  

    There were two matters in particular that struck me profoundly about the coverage surrounding Korryn’s fatal police incident:  the way Black men discussed Korryn’s story on social media, and the Black community’s continued miseducation regarding disability.

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