January 28th, 2021

Black Girls w/ Disabilities: Pushed Out, Unsupported, Struggling to Learn

We’ve made a lot of promises to students with disabilities over the years: our federal civil rights laws are the bedrock upon which we build a lifetime of learning and growth for students. But our promises are not kept equally for all students: Black girls with disabilities are often left holding the pieces of broken promises made by policymakers and school leaders. From inadequate educational experiences to constant, harmful disciplinary practices, school is a harmful place for many Black girls with disabilities.

NCLD, in conjunction with our partners at The Education Trust, wanted to hear more from two of our Young Adult Leadership Council (YALC) members about their experiences in school as Black girls with learning disabilities. Self-advocacy is one of the key skills we hope students with disabilities will learn and develop over time. Being a self-advocate is a survival skill for most students with disabilities, but Black students with disabilities are often denied the chance to be self-advocates because of societal views that cast them off as outspoken, disrespectful, or misbehaved. Our YALC members shared their struggles with pull-out special education practices, the value of having a Black teacher,and how important Black parents and guardians are to helping their children become self-advocates. They also offered suggestions for how advocates can lean in and improve p-12 educational systems to better support Black students with disabilities.

This blog captures parts of a recorded conversation between Alyssia Jackson, YALC Alumnus, Atira Roberson, current YALC Member, and Lynn Jennings, Ph.D., Senior Director of National and State Partnerships at Ed Trust. We invite you to listen and share your thoughts with us on Facebook or Twitter under the hashtag #BlackandLD.

Are Black girls forced to choose between their race or their disability?

Black girls with disabilities often face difficult choices when advocating for themselves in school. Social stigma about disabilities makes it harder to ask for help and support when it’s needed. On top of that, Black girls are stereotyped as aggressive and disrespectful when asking for what they need or challenging the status quo. For some Black students with disabilities, this can pose a difficult decision: do I advocate for myself and advocate for the support and accommodations I’m due to help me learn, or do I remain quiet instead of risking discipline for racial and gender stereotypes that plague our schools? Atira, Alyssia, and Lynn discuss more in this clip:

A Triple Threat: Getting Into Good Trouble

Students with disabilities want their attributes and skills embraced in school and for educators to connect with students at a different level. Begin with empathy, and build learning systems for students with disabilities that meet them where they are. In this clip, Atira and Alyssia talk about their experiences in special education programs, and why they proudly embraced their identity as a triple threat: Black, disabled, and a woman.

The Impact of Black Educators in Classrooms

In our last clip from this conversation, Alyssia, Atira, and Lynn discuss ways to make school a more supportive environment, particularly as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and address the trauma of institutionalized racism and ableism. Lynn mentions an Ed Trust blog, Self-Advocacy or Defiance in Protests? the piece that launched our conversation about self-advocacy for Black students with disabilities.

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