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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
Despite the seemingly limitless TV programming options that exist for our entertainment pleasure, very few target the identities I have in a manner that are affirmative and validating. However, this month, two shows managed to meet this feat. Black-ish and Speechless aired episodes that touched on difficult topics that rarely are discussed as candidly as they should – race relations and inspiration porn, respectively.
Being that the nature of both episodes resonated with me profoundly, I thought it would be appropriate to discuss the significance of both, and why we need more shows to be authentic about the experiences and thoughts of marginalized people.
Image of me with then Sen. Obama in 2008. In the photo is a young light-skinned Black woman in a wheelchair with a tall light-skinned Black man leaning next to her. Both people are smiling for the camera.
Today is the last day we will have Barack Obama as our President. It was not until yesterday that this reality hit me hard emotionally.
2016 was the year when I traveled more than ever, and continuing my wanderlust is one of the resolutions I have for the new year. Traveling as a wheelchair user means that there is more planning involved, especially when it comes to finding accessible places to stay. Hotel companies are suppose to have available accessible rooms and proper accommodations within them, but many fall short to truly being accessible to those of us on four wheels. I wanted to share my most recent incident, as it was a very poignant case of inaccessibility to date that I have endured.
This year has been one where the Ramp Your Voice!’s blog broke its pageviews record by having 76,809 views, which is over double that seen last year (which was almost 30,000). In keeping with record-shattering trends, the blog had 1,148 views in one day on February 4th, which beat last year’s record of 470. This was also the year where the blog has become the space where I have expressed my unapologetic disabled Blackness. I am so proud that I wrote many articles that targeted the Black disabled experience, and the effects and presence of white privilege and racism in our community, 2016 was when I felt comfortable in writing about what mattered to me without fearing being pigeon-holed by those within and outside of our community.
As I did last year, I want to highlight the articles that received the most views and shares in 2016. These works are some of my best features; a lot of my advocacy passions were evident in 2016. It is a humbling moment when readers respect your voice, understand the emotions that are present, and support what you do fervently.
I wanted to take the time to wish all of my readers, followers, and supporters a very Happy Holiday season. Tis the season for family and friends gatherings, hot cocoa, eggnog, presents, and watching childhood favorites Christmas movies.
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:
Important Disability-Related Videos You Should Watch
Here's the Out of Step's TOOST Radio interview I participated in as a panelist on Nov. 6th, 2013. During the interview, I discussed my personal & professional viewpoints about the choice of discussing disability status while seeking employment opportunities. The part that I'm featured begins 15:29 minutes into the interview.
In this video, Beyoncé helps Kid President with World Humanitarian Day 2013. The Kid President has OI like I do. I think that his messages are ones that all walks of life & ages can learn from. I'm so jealous that he met one of my idols & favorite music performers, Beyoncé! I wanted to share with you all the interview the Kid President did with Beyoncé for World Humanitarian Day, which was August 19th, 2013.