Disability and the black community

By James Harley

Feb. 24, 2021

Orange graphic with image of man and text that says "Disability and the African American Community By James Harley"

As American society commemorates Black History Month and continues to reckon with the state of racism and equity in our country, I was invited by Jason Harris, LADD’s director of strategic operations, to share my thoughts about disability in the African American community. As an individual who has had cerebral palsy my whole life and who is African American, I know firsthand about many challenges.

Racism, poverty and low unemployment rates have historically plagued the African American community as a whole. This has been even worse for African American people with disabilities. It’s even harder for a Black American with a disability to gain meaningful employment and to receive healthcare that they need, which we see right now especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. People with disabilities as a whole struggle with isolationism and this is even worse in the Black community. The African American community does not really see disability rights as one of the top issues that faces the community as a whole. Thus, people with disabilities in the African American community are largely overlooked and seen as a burden.

African Americans with disabilities also are more likely to have a dangerous encounter with law enforcement. Why? Because many disabilities are not always visible to the naked eye so untrained law enforcement officials might handle the situation in a dangerous manner.

There are some solutions I think will improve the lives of people with disabilities in the African American community and society as a whole. One of the first things we need is better access to healthcare resources. Medicaid and Medicare funding needs to be increased to better support people with disabilities in all communities, but especially in the African American community. We need better access to affordable and accessible housing. We need improved job training programs and services to help people find meaningful and gainful employment.

We also need to do a better job of training law enforcement officials on how to support people with disabilities, particularly in the African American community. Having a mental health practitioner respond to certain 911 calls instead of police, as they are better trained to deal with certain issues, as well as access to better transportation would be huge in leveling the playing field. These are things we should be doing right now to help improve the lives of people with disabilities in this country, especially people in the African American community.

African American issues don’t just affect the African American community; these issues affect American society as a whole. It’s up to all of us to promote inclusion in our lives every day. Be the change you want to see.

About the author

James Harley is an advocate for people with disabilities. In the past, he has worked and volunteered for Hamilton County Developmental Disabilities Services. James has been on many statewide groups and local groups, such as the University of Cincinnati Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UC UCEDD) Community Advisory Committee, and has also been a part of many provider trainings. James has received many statewide awards for his work and advocacy.