What is Disability Rights?

  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: 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. ADA Generation: Celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (Part 1)

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    It was 25 years ago today that one of the most influential, life-changing disability policies was signed into law, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  For those who were born during the 80s and 90s, disabled Millennials also known as ADA Generation, it is hard to phantom living in a world without this mandate that guarantees our rights to equal access to education, healthcare, transportation; as well as necessary accommodations and accessibility in utilizing services and resources in our communities.


  1. Blog Action Day 2014: Inequality & Disability

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    Blog Action Day 2014 - Inequality

    This is the second year I have had the Ramp Your Voice! blog participate in Blog Action Day.  (Last year’s theme was about human rights.)  This year’s theme revolves around inequality, and this theme undeniably fits into the focus of RYV!  On the blog, I have written countless articles about inequality as it relates to disability, from difficulty accessing health care services; how we are viewed by society as less than and second class individuals; and the misconceptions surrounding our sexuality and the effects those ideals have on us and our ability to relate to others.

    For #BAD2014, I decided to take the approach of providing a brief rundown of the most common barriers people with disabilities are subjected to that unfairly disadvantage us.  Though I am certain that my readers are familiar with some (if not all) of these issues, I wanted to provide a mini overview for those who may find this article in the Blog Action Day tags online.


  1. Rock the Disabled Vote in South Carolina!

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    Photo with the text, Rock the Disabled Vote.  Image has the disability symbol holding up signs, spelling out the word "vote."

    2014 is a midterm election year, and it is imperative for South Carolinians with disabilities to rock the disabled vote!  Voting is our civil right in this country, and you should not be prevented to exercise this right simply because you have a disability.  I grew up in a household where politics was discussed, and I saw my beloved Grandmother rock her vote each election year.  Due to her example, I have been a registered voter since I turned 18, and have voted in every election since.  Needless to say, I will be exercising my right to vote on Tuesday, July 10th, 2014 for the South Carolina Primary, and on Tuesday, November 4th, 2014 for the General Election.


  1. The ADA, Service Animals, & Places of Business: Know Your Rights!

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    The summer season means that people with disabilities will be exploring public venues within and outside of their communities.  If you use a service animal, your lifeline to independence and safety, may not be welcomed by certain businesses.  It is imperative to know your rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in order to identify and report discrimination you may experience at such venues.


  1. The Call for Congress to Pass the ABLE Act

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    The ABLE Act has the potential to improve the financial and employability statuses of people with disabilities in this country, if enacted.  The Achieve a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act gained the attention of the disability community when it was first introduced into Congress on February 13, 2013.  The ABLE Act was not decided on last year due to the fact that the Congressional session ended before the bill could be considered; however, it has the support of over 400 co-sponsors in the House and Senate.  Having such a large amount of support gives many disability advocates, including yours truly, great hope that the Act will be considered and passed this year.


  1. Recognizing National Disability Employment Awareness Month

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    On September 30, 2013, President Barack Obama issued a proclamation declaring October 2013 as National Disability Employment Awareness Month.  In his proclamation, the President urged employers and those in hiring positions to seek out individuals with disabilities to participate in our workforce and contribute their unique gifts and talents to our society.

    According to the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy’s website, as of September 2013, only 20.9% of people with disabilities in America were active participants in the American labor force; those without disabilities made up 68.8% of the labor force.  The overall unemployment rate in America for September 2013 was 6.8%; the unemployment rate of people with disabilities, however, was 13.1%.  With people with disabilities making up such a small percentage of the workforce and yet a very high percentage of unemployment when compared to their able-bodied counterparts, this puts the population at an incredible disadvantage socially, financially, educationally, mentally, and hinders their ability to become independent members in society.