BLM x Disabilities: Becoming Intersectional Allies


via @diversability on Instagram

As the Black Lives Matter movement sweeps the nation and across all facets of life, every single one of us experiences a call to action in this fight for justice and equality. We have a responsibility to be advocates for our black brothers and sisters, and effective allyship requires us to recognize our privilege and to use it for positive change; however, we often fail to recall how apparent the privilege of being able-bodied is, especially in the context of police brutality and social justice. The conversation of #BlackLivesMatter and the pervasive themes of police brutality is incomplete without also being cognizant of Black Disabled Lives.

Information on the Issue

In addition to the statistic introduced above, there are many more facts, figures, and social implications to consider in understanding interactions between the police and the disabled community. Not only does the black disabled community tend to face unfair underrepresentation in daily life and common media, but they are also found to face unjust overrepresentation in the context of police violence. To effectively combat and affect change on the issue, it is important to first educate ourselves on the depth and extent of the problem.

  • The Ruderman Family Foundation (2016): It was found in their studies that up to half of the people killed by police across the country have a disability, which aligns with existing findings.
  • From @poppyspassport via @museummammy: “the police brutality I’ve seen on the disabled - regardless of their skin - is abhorrent. People don’t realize the privilege of being of able body and mind… When someone hears ‘put your hands up’ they might not have the physical capability of doing so. When someone hears ‘keep calm,’ they might not have the neurological capability to do so. And that is considered like ‘uncooperative behaviour,’ and it gives authorities a pretext to use force.”
  • The NCIL’s We Can’t Breathe Project: The National Council for Independent Living, a prominent disability rights and advocacy group, recently launched a campaign that seeks to spread awareness of police brutality towards the disabled community. They provide an informational video entitled We Can’t Breathe, which “discusses the narratives of 5 people with disabilities on the margins that have been victimized by police brutality and other forms of systemic violence.” Even in the small sample size of the video, it is abundantly clear that there is a disproportionate overrepresentation of black disabled lives in the victim pool; the facet of black disabled lives in Black Lives Matter is incredibly important.

Making Activism Accessible

Equipped with a better understanding of the injustices at hand, we must also consider how we may use any privilege we have to be strong allies for all black lives and communities, including the black disabled. That privilege could come from being able bodied, white, non-black POC, socioeconomic status, and more, but in any case, allyship should be accessible to all.

Be compassionate towards all allies and their abilities.

  • Fundamentally, people face different circumstances and have differing sets of capabilities that they may apply to the cause. Being aware of this and understanding that activism looks different for everyone is important in creating a culture of encouragement and co-learning necessary for change. A multi-picture post via @strengthcenteredspeech on Instagram provides several important points to keep in mind:
    • “Remember that many disabled people will not be able to attend protests due to their disability or associated risks, no matter how much they want to be there”
    • “There are many ways to be involved, such as organizing, donating time/money, sharing information, and doing daily and committed work. ‘Doing the work’ is not unique to the front lines and does not start or end there.”
  • Make the Front Lines Disability-Friendly

  • Making protests accessible is deeply important to welcoming different people to stand in solidarity with other allies at an event, and should be a required consideration. Further, it is important to be cognizant of your fellow protesters, and to understand that there may be disabled people around you that you do not immediately recognize as disabled, so it should be as crucial as ever to respect others’ space, existence, and contribution (especially if is doesn’t perfectly mirror your own).
  • Actionable items via @strengthcenteredspeech: Contact local protest organizers to help ensure accessibility.
    • “Encouraging each march to have a rally alternative for people to congregate
    • Checking in about access to ramps and restrooms, as well as interpreters
    • If possible, providing mobility aids anda team devoted to disability access in case needs arise last minute.
    • Ensuring that all organized protest language is anti-ableist”
  • On being aware, mindful, and respectful of those around you:

Share your information in different ways.

  • Education is at the core of understanding, empathy, and catalyzing change. We should find ways to share our information in ways and different methods that are inclusive.
  • ID or photo descriptions for the hard of seeing
    • Sometimes, visual media that is easily consumed for many people is inaccessible or overstimulating/overwhelming for others. Therefore, including a description or explanation of your visual content could be greatly beneficial for many different people with varying abilities and sight capabilities/tolerances..
  • Captions on videos for the card of hearing
    • So many wonderful voices and powerful thoughts are shared daily through video content nowadays. To ensure that everyone can experience, learn, and educate themselves through these media, consider including captions in your videos or providing a written transcript. For the hard of hearing or for people who simply are not in an environment where they can play these videos aloud, including another mode of communication is greatly helpful in allowing voices, especially black voices, to reach as many people as possible.
    • @jillianmercado on Instagram provides two wonderful apps for you to get started with captioning your own video content: Caption This and Clipomatic

Whether our privilege arises from skin color, being able-bodied, or something else, our contribution to the movement is immeasurably important. Through education and making activism accessible, we must come to understand the importance of Black Disabled Lives in the conversation of police brutality, injustice, and the powerful Black Lives Matter movement that is currently trailblazing our path to greater social justice. Thank you for learning with us, and please share with our community how you have been contributing to the cause!