Skip to Main Content

Disability Justice

Library Display, October 2021

WEEK 4: intersection of race and disability

Week 4: Our topic this week is the intersection of Race and Disability.   

**Please note a content notice for mention of police brutality.**  

Special thanks to DAS Program Assistant Okunyi Chol and DAS Program Coordinator Natalie Hull for their work on this week’s topic.



During the past two years, many people have been grappling with the realities of racial injustice in the United States. That being said, when speaking about disability as a part of diversity, it is crucial to examine the ways that those with multiple marginalized identities are uniquely affected so we can better support them. Part of the intention of the Disability Justice movement is to center the experiences of those with oppressed identities that intersect with disability, such as race.   

For disabled college students of color, the self-advocacy process includes more barriers: 

  •  Students of color have to advocate for themselves both as a non-white student and as a student with a disability and may have to choose between which “battle" to fight between the two. Unconscious bias by people with privileged identities directly impacts the experiences of disabled students of color.  
  • Students of color are also less likely to have medical documentation, often due to medical racism, or an accurate diagnosis due to cultural differences between students and evaluators.  
    • Proper and current documentation can also have a significant cost associated with results in unequal ability to acquire documentation required by colleges. 
  • Students of color are undiagnosed for disabilities such as autism, so they may have barriers that need accommodating but no diagnosis to establish a disability. In K-12 where early detection is crucial, statistics suggest that Black people with developmental disabilities and mental illnesses are less likely to get diagnosed or get medical treatment than their white peers. (Black, autistic, and killed by police). In schools, where early detection of disabilities typically occurs, students of color are more likely than their white peers to be diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder and conduct disorders, which do not qualify for Special Education (Breaking the School to Prison Pipeline). While previous reports found that students of color were in Special Education at disproportionately high rates, more recent research has identified complexities by finding that, “You’re more likely to be identified with a disability if you’re white and English speaking and “children of color are less likely to receive special education services than similar white children,” (New studies challenge the claim that black students are sent to special ed too much). 

  Ways to support disabled students of color in the classroom 

  • Encourage exploration of identity
  • Create spaces for open conversations 
  • Provide resources 
  • Reconsider punitive actions 
  • Recognize generational and race-related trauma 
    • Understand students of color be may retraumatized when discussing certain current events or instances of institutional racism 
    • Consider using content notices so students are prepared 
  • Don’t create an environment in which students of color are expected to speak on behalf of marginalized people 
  • Being aware of your own privilege and examining your unconscious biases when working with disabled students of color
  • Assist with the initial transition from K-12 to college 


Broader societal context 

Though Black people experience disability at a higher rate than white people (1 in 4 compared to 1 in 5, per CDC Disability and Race statistics), their experiences have not been centered in previous disability advocacy. The Disability Justice movement and Black Lives Matter have drawn attention to the intersection of disability and race and articulated areas of oppression that persist, such as mass incarceration and policing. Black disabled people experience it in significantly higher rates disproportionate to their respective minority populations.  

Further Resources: