Considering intersectionality wrt disability
What if some students (and adults) with disabilities get a worse shake not solely because of their disability?
I was just reading another report in a series of reports about disability from the Center for American Progress. The series includes more than one post about how some people receive different treatment than others because—wait patiently please—they belong to a group that has multiple unusual characteristics: They are female, black, and have disabilities.
As just about any educator knows—at least those who (a) can read and (b) do not live under a rock—the combination of ethnicity and disability has been a frequent topic of discussion. Are too many or too few students of a particular ethnic or language group being identified for special education? Are too few or too many children subject to some particular form of discipline? Do some students wait longer to be identified as needing services?
Readers are also likely familiar with the concept of intersectionality. Aspects of a person’s life overlap, forming even more unique groups. Gender, ethnicity, age, sexuality, and (of course) disability—and I’m probably omitting some of the features that can be considered—intersection, sometimes in two or even multiple overlaps.
A good way, in my experience, to illustrate intersectionality and it’s potential importance comes from employment discrimination. Suppose the few Black women in a large company have never been promoted to management. Some Black employees have been promoted. Some female employees have been promoted. But, no Black women have been promoted. It’s the combination of gender and ethnicity that makes this concerning. To be sure, one would want to examine the qualifications of all those who were and were not promoted, but intersectionality begs us to think of the comparison group. With whom should those employees be compared? What’s the right base rate? What’s the denominator?
(Without wanting to go off on a side track right now, I urge us to think about this idea in a broad way: In research, what is the right control condition? I’ll save this for a later post.)
So, what got me off on this discussion of intersectionality? As I mentioned, there was a piece among the pages of the Center for American Progress. Under the headline, “Expanding Education Access for Black Girls With Disabilities,” Megan Buckles and Mia Ives-Rublee describe their argument to improve services for some of our students. They’re talking about the intersection of three groups. They argue that “To create more equitable education systems, policymakers must understand how racism, ableism, and sexism intersect and negatively affect Black disabled girls’ ability to attain an education.” Some of us might want to discuss the nature and quality of the evidence on which Ms. Buckles and Ives-Rublee base their argument, and that’s fine, but the call to considering advocacy for individuals in the overlaps still has merit.
Let me just add that their message should not be restricted to policymakers. There’s a message for just about all of we educators, too: We should make sure that we teach our students, regardless of intersections in the features of their lives, to be strong and capable, and capable of advocating for themselves. And, also, teach any students with whom we have contact to take care of each other, to be caring, considerate, advocates for “others.”