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In Celebration of Black Americans with Disabilities

Article by Angela Nevin

We know that month-long celebrations can fizzle and wane as the month goes by. So, we want to take the opportunity to add a fresh voice to celebrating the individuals who make a difference in the lives of Black Americans with disabilities.

Many people in the history of Black Americans have also been people with disabilities. Just a few to note:

Picture of Harriet Tubman (1820-1913)a remarkable conductor (those who helped others gain their freedom from slavery), had epilepsy resulting from a head injury as a young slave.
Harriet Tubman (1820-1913), a remarkable conductor (those who helped others gain their freedom from slavery), had epilepsy resulting from a head injury as a young slave.
Picture of Blind Tom Wiggins
Thomas “Blind Tom” Wiggins (1849-1908)  an extraordinary musician, was blind and believed to be autistic.
Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977), a civil rights activist helping Black Americans register to vote, had kidney damage.
Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977) was arrested in June 1963, after successfully registering to vote. At the jailhouse, she was brutally beaten, leaving lifelong injuries from a blood clot in her eye, as well as kidney and leg damage.

However, many people are, right now, working to change the lives of Black Americans with disabilities. Let us introduce you to a few remarkable Black women with disabilities who are right now out there driving change.

Ms. Jane Dunhamn is the founding member and director of the National Black Disability Coalition, NBDC. Her experience in disability-related fields spans 50 years – focusing on the intersections of race and disability. Her work as a nationally recognized speaker and lecturer has brought to the forefront a more accurate and complex understanding of Black disabled people. Under her leadership, NBDC partnered with Seeking Ways Out Team (SWOT) to assist hundreds of individuals living in institutions to move into community living. While Ms. Dunhamn is not a person with a disability (as far as I can find), she is the single parent of an adult daughter with a developmental disability who lives in Arlington, Virginia, and is employed by the US Department of Labor. To learn more about this remarkable leader, click on this link.

Book cover for Habin Girma
Habin Girma: The Deafblind woman to Conquered Harvard Law

Haben Girma is an American disability rights advocate, the first deafblind graduate of Harvard Law School, and now a human rights lawyer advancing disability justice. Haben believes disability is an opportunity for innovation and teaches organizations the importance of choosing inclusion. She was named a  White House Champion of Change by President Barack Obama and got a spot on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list. You can follow her on Instagram @habengirma.

Picture of Stephanie Thomas
Stephanie Thomas

Stephanie Thomas is the epitome of disability pride. Born a congenital amputee, she has redefined fashion for individuals with disabilities. Thomas is also the founder of Cur8able, a disability fashion and lifestyle blog-turned-company in 2015, pulling together disability-friendly clothing, disseminating advice, and offering discount lists. She developed the Disability Fashion Styling System, which states that all clothing, accessories, and footwear must be Accessible (easy to put on and take off), Smart (medically safe for the wearer’s health, and Fashionable (loved by the wearer and works with their body type.) You can follow her on Instagram @cur8able. “Cur8able – Content at the Intersection of Fashion and Disability.” True disability pride!

Andrea Dalzell is a nurse in New York City, where she has taken care of coronavirus patients during the pandemic. Calling herself “the seated nurse,” she’s a full-time wheelchair user due to transverse myelitis, who gives all her patients top-quality care. In her own words, Andrea describes being questioned daily about her ability. “I am a nurse! Period! I am questioned about my ability every day. I’m told that I can’t deliver care like an able-bodied nurse. Written off because my disability is visible. I have been told by patients that I belong in the hospital bed when I’m the one wiping their butt or holding their hand while an NG tube is placed. Nurses assume that I can take assignments based on ease. I am here to let you know I can do any part of patient care. I had to prove this in nursing school and yet I’m still seen as a liability, incapable, infection risk with no evidence to back it up. I can do anything you can do, I’m just in the seated position!” Follow Andrea on Instagram @theseatednurse.

In my research of Black disabled Americans leading the charge for change, I found so many I couldn’t include in this article. I encourage you to follow the embedded links to learn more about some remarkable individuals spearheading Black rights, disabled rights, and human rights.

Curtis Pride, Keah Brown, Tobi Green Adenowo, Montel Williams, Tatiana Lee, David Paterson, Michelle A. Banks, Christopher Bell, Danny Glover (just to name a few)


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