The Disabled Experience

  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. Online Disability Advocacy & Social Work: Survey Participation Needed!

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    On Thursday, October 13th, I will be hosting my first Twitter chat as a #MacroSW partner.  I was invited to be a partner for MacroSW (Macro Social Work) over the summer.  Macro social work focuses on “big systems” – advocacy, community building, politics, policy, etc., and how those systems affect how we engage with our communities and how we interact with those systems.  Though I love micro social work, which is direct practice (working with individuals, families, and groups), it is macro social work where I shine and thrive.  Since I am not in a traditional social work role within my advocacy work and now with my new position at WID (World Institute on Disability), it is nice to be among like-minded social workers who love to look at the big picture of the world, and work on solutions to fix the problems that exists.  


  1. Learning to Embrace My “Secondary” Disabilities

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    Secondary Disabilities

    This year has afforded me the chance to reflect on what being an advocate means to me, especially with the incredible connections and friendships I have been able to forge.

    Being an advocate has also allowed me to fully embrace the two “secondary” disability identities I possess:  being of shorter stature and learning about little people culture, and being hard of hearing (HoH) and learning about d/Deaf & HoH culture.  


  1. There Is No Such Thing As Transcending Disability

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    Transcending Disability 1

    I was having a conversation with a fellow advocate/disabled Sistagirl about a response they received from a member of our community who did not understand why they would embrace their disabled identity.  This person shared that they had “moved beyond” their disability; that mentality struck a nerve with Sistagirl, and the wheels started turning in my head.

    I thought about what my response would be to that person or anyone who came to me with similar sentiments, and the following piece was birthed.  


  1. The Black Body, Assisted Suicide, & the “Me Before You” Connection

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    Me Before You has been the main topic within the disability circles I am a part of for the past few weeks, and rightfully so.  The depiction of disability within the film, which spurred from the book under the same title, is disturbing; the main character decides that death is a better choice to make than to live with a disability.  The film is suppose to be a romantic tale, but I am hard-pressed to see anything related to romance within a story that has a twisted view and understanding about the disabled life, especially when the actual story was written by a non-disabled author, and the main character is played by a non-disabled actor.  

    Film depictions, and other media portrayals similar to Me Before You’s storyline, hones in on the gross disability tropes that adds to the stereotypes and misperceptions surrounding disability in our society rather than shine a light on what living with a disability actually is like for the largest minority group in the United States and globally.  Though I fully and steadfastly support my fellow advocates and allies in their protesting against Me Before You, I have remained silent on the film until now for a number of reasons; reasons that goes beyond the movie storyline.  This piece will take a closer look at the issues that stood out to me regarding what the debate is truly about – assisted suicide and disability representation – and the gaps I witness within media portrayals and the faces of the protesters against Me Before You.  Me Before You is just the “mouthpiece” that has provided the opportune moment for these matters to be discussed for me – that is more important than rehashing the sentiments my fellow advocates have written and uttered over the past few weeks.  


  1. #DisabilityTooWhite: Making the “Good Trouble” in Advocacy

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    By now, many of you may have heard of the hashtag #DisabilityTooWhite.  It was created last Wednesday on Twitter impromptu by me, and has gained a lot of support, resistance, and interest from those within and outside of the disability community.  I have been interviewed by many pertaining to the hashtag, and felt that it was very much appropriate to discuss it on my blog, and to be very candid on how I felt about what has transpired in the past week.


  1. “Wilhemina’s War:” Reaction to the PBS Documentary Depicting the HIV/AIDS Epidemic in Rural SC

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    AIDS and HIV in cube

    Last Monday, PBS debuted the documentary “Wilhemina’s War,” a film that showcased the lives of those affected by HIV/AIDS in lowcountry South Carolina.  Wilhemina Dixon is the caregiver of two family members living with HIV – her daughter Toni and granddaughter Dayshal.  The film revealed the struggles of accessing proper health care in the Palmetto state, due in part to the lack of funding and political supports that disadvantages and compromises the health statuses of those living with HIV/AIDS, particularly those in rural parts of the state.  

    Being someone who grew up during the 1990s when HIV/AIDS was widely discussed, and having interned at a non-profit organization that serves individuals living with HIV/AIDS, this was a film that instantly grabbed my attention, and I knew that I had to watch.  What took place over the 55:31 minutes the documentary aired unleashed a plethora of emotions within me – shock, anger, sadness, and pride.  I had never watched something so powerful and stark before in a very long time; I knew that this was a film that I had to share on the blog, and why it is dire to understand the healthcare plight of HIV/AIDS in South Carolina.