Black Disabled Lives Matter: Including the Disability Community in our Fight Against Police Brutality and Systemic Racism
In the past few months, we have witnessed widespread protests and the beginning of a long-overdue, nationwide reckoning with our country’s long history of systemic racism. I’ve been inspired to see so many Americans unequivocally affirm that Black Lives Matter, and I’ve personally recommitted to doing my part as an elected official to fight racial injustice. As part of that work, I believe it’s critical to affirm unequivocally that Black Disabled Lives Matter — and in doing so also recognize, and address, the ways systemic racism and police violence specifically impact Black people with disabilities.
Though our country has made great strides when it comes to ensuring people with disabilities can live their lives free from discrimination, we have a long way to go to ensure these protections are a reality for everyone. This month, as we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) — a landmark civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities when it comes to going to school, getting and keeping a job, getting where they need to go on accessible transportation, voting, and more — I am focused on building on this progress to end persistent inequalities for people of color with disabilities.
Today, too many people with disabilities still face significant challenges accessing the supports, services, and accommodations they need to live their daily lives. These challenges disproportionately impact Black people with disabilities, as well as other people of color with disabilities.
We have a lot of work to do when it comes to eliminating barriers to employment for people with disabilities, ensuring people with disabilities have access to affordable health care, and guaranteeing that people with disabilities have the right to live independently. Sadly, even thirty years after the ADA became law, we must work to better enforce its protections.
And especially now as our nation grapples with the scourge of police violence, we must face the reality that over one third of people killed by police have a disability — and that Black people and people of color are disproportionately likely to face police violence. America has a history of institutionalizing and criminalizing disabilities; oppressed by both ableism and racism, Black people with disabilities face being seen as threatening — and instead of providing them with the physical accommodations or communication assistance that they are entitled to, police officers frequently turn to violence.
Tragically, violence in the lives of Black people with disabilities can start long before any interactions with law enforcement. Black children with disabilities are disproportionately likely to face racism and violence in the very places where they should feel safe, nurtured and welcome — their schools. Black children with disabilities disproportionately face suspension and expulsion, as well as violent punishments such as seclusion and restraint. Some of the same police holds protestors are fighting against — such as “prone restraint,” where a person is held face down on the ground — are still allowed today in many school settings. That’s why it’s absolutely crucial that we end the use of seclusion and restraint in schools and work to identify and prevent bias and discrimination in discipline. Our work must start at the Pre-K-12 level — in addition to fighting to make the promises of the ADA a reality in our criminal justice system and pushing to pass the Justice in Policing Act to improve accountability from law enforcement officers.
It’s clear that on this 30th anniversary of the ADA — and as activism to end police violence continues nationwide — we must recommit ourselves to building a more inclusive and accessible world. As we look forward, we must be focused on ensuring that all people with disabilities can live free from discrimination and violence.