Excerpted From: Kiyra Ellis, The Forgotten Activists: Black People in the Disability Rights Movement, 14 University of Miami Race & Social Justice Law Review 55 (Fall, 2023) (183 Footnotes) (Full Document)

NoPictureFemaleThe Black Civil Rights Movement remains one of the most significant civil rights movements in the United States. Historians categorize the movement to have taken place during the 1950s and 1960s. Civil rights movements on other issues applied strategies from activists in the Black Civil Rights Movement to better champion the advancement of their rights.

This paper examines the impact the Black Civil Rights Movement had on the Disability Civil Rights Movement and disability-focused legislation. It also uses the Americans with Disabilities Act to showcase the role of Black people with disabilities in the passage of the Act. I will focus on the intersection of Black people and people with disabilities and the role Black activists with disabilities have had on the disability movement. This article will identify the ways the disability rights movement has failed to advocate for the needs of Black people with disabilities by examining the COVID-19 pandemic and the current educational shortfalls for Black people with disabilities.

I will then explore the disability justice movement and the principles upholding the movement. The paper will focus on the Black and Brown activists of the disability justice movement alongside their critiques of the disability rights movement, and it will end with a call to action within the disability justice framework to advance the goals of the Black Civil Rights Movement, the disability rights movement, and the disability justice movement.

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The Black civil rights movement has impacted many different marginalized communities. It is through the concept of intersectionality in which we understand how the Black identity is intertwined with other identities of a person. Black people with disabilities are instrumental in both the disability rights movement and the Black civil rights movement. Black leaders in both movements have fought for the legal and social advancements of the groups throughout the centuries.

It is apparent that the mainstream disability rights movement has fallen short in advocating for the specific needs and interests of the Black people with disabilities in the movement. The emergence of the disability justice movement is a response to the lack of inclusion and puts the needs of the most vulnerable group at the forefront. The principles of the disability justice movement focus on the ways the Black and Disabled identities intersect.

The legal advancements that both movements were able to make are significant and the disability justice movement uses these legal achievements to push for social and policy change. The disability justice movement was recently formed and is still developing new ways to combat the oppression felt by its members. The lack of research on the intersection of race and disability is a form of oppression and prevents awareness of the problem. My hope with this paper is that by showcasing research and anecdotal evidence we will bring to light the ways we can grow and support the most vulnerable groups in our communities.

In 2005, the Modern Language Association's Committee on Disability Issues in the Profession wrote, “The future of Disability Studies is Black indeed”. The expanding lens of the disability justice movement recognizes the Black advocates that built the movement and demand acknowledgment of the different needs of everyone in the community. This shift from the goal of uniformity will shape and advance the future equity for all people with disabilities.