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The Intersectionality of Race and Disability

The Intersectionality of Race and Disability

ADA Compliance Division intern, Caitlyn Johnson, prepared a detailed fact sheet highlighting the intersectionality of Black and disability identities as well as recognizing the disparities that exist in these communities. The piece originally ran in the ADA Compliance Division newsletter that goes to state ADA Compliance Coordinators (ADACs) in every department. MDNR then shared the piece with members of their staff involved with disability-related matters.

Nationally, approximately 5.6 million African Americans have a disability, and in Michigan, roughly one third have a disability. Having a combination of these identities often results in increased inequities, specifically in education, employment, healthcare, and interactions with law enforcement.

In education:

  • Black students with disabilities are disproportionately suspended in school. More than 1 in 4 boys of color with disabilities and nearly 1 in 5 girls of color with disabilities receive an out-of-school suspension.
  • 57% of Black students with disabilities graduate high school compared to 74.6% of Black students without disabilities.

In employment:

  • There are 3.4 million African Americans with disabilities of working age.
  • Only 28.7% of working-age African Americans with disabilities are employed while 72% of working-age African Americans without disabilities are employed.
  • Approximately 40% of African Americans with disabilities are living in poverty compared to 22% of African Americans without disabilities.

In healthcare:

  • Many people who are Black/African American and have disabilities have chronic underlying health conditions that make them vulnerable to COVID-19.
  • African Americans are less likely to have access to COVID-19 testing resources and they receive worse care when they do have access.
  • Blacks are disproportionately represented in settings where the risk of COVID-19 is highest (i.e., correctional facilities and congregate care).

In law enforcement interactions:

  • Racial profiling remains a persistent issue in policing. African Americans with disabilities may be unable to understand or cooperate with law enforcement orders.
  • People who are deaf may not be able to hear or understand orders, while someone with mental or cognitive disabilities may not respond well to officers.
  • Police officers who lack appropriate training or cultural understanding to work with people with disabilities and/or the African American community may have their preconceptions exacerbated when interacting with these individuals. This can lead to unnecessarily violent or even fatal outcomes.

Recognizing and understanding the intersection of identities and the realities that come with it can be a huge first step in addressing disparities and challenging biases.