Inclusion and Equity Begin with Intersectionality

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Overhead shot of six disabled people of color at a rooftop deck party. An Indigenous Two-Spirit person with a prosthetic leg smiles directly at the camera and gives a thumbs up while everyone else is engaged in conversation.

Image courtesy of Disabled and Here.

Growing up in a small town in Northwest Ohio, I experienced life in a very homogeneous community. As I grew older, I wanted to learn and grow, so I decided to attend the University of Cincinnati in a “big city” with hundreds of thousands of people who were not like me. My favorite courses included my Women’s Studies and African American History courses, which taught me about history and ideas not shared in middle or high school.

I’ve carried those teachings with me throughout my adult life, and I’ve often reflected on the idea of intersectionality. It’s a concept I’ve considered and thought about more often while advocating for people with disabilities.

More than 30 years ago, Kimberlé Crenshaw, American civil rights advocate and law professor at Columbia Law School and UCLA School of Law, developed the term intersectionality to explain the interconnectedness of people’s social identities. Over the last 15 years, intersectionality has started to show up in disability studies and conversations about disability rights.

In a video featured by the Ford Foundation, Keri Gray, CEO of the Keri Gray Group, explains how people with disabilities with intersections of other marginalized groups experience increased systemic discrimination. Gray advises organizations and institutions on intersectionality and how race, gender, and disability impact the workplace.

Gray says: “The reality is, is that you have people like myself, who are black, disabled, and women, and so many other things. And when you live at the intersections of all three of those, then you can’t split your political and social dynamics between these different groups. It doesn’t produce real results of freedom and it doesn’t produce real results of access to employment and other opportunities that you’re looking for.”

Gray’s quote signifies how intersectionality applies practically to everyday life, and that we must examine existing structures and systems to create a truly inclusive world.

So, how does intersectionality play out in real life in relation to disability?

  • A woman with a disability may not have the same employment opportunities as a disabled man.
  • In the documentary, “In a Different Key,” the producer explored how systemic racial bias has caused Black and Latino children to be less likely to be diagnosed with Autism than white children.
  • Women with disabilities are more likely to experience violence than non-disabled women, according to studies.

As we work to advocate for people with disabilities, we must remember individuals’ full identities, and how social identities may include other marginalized groups. True inclusion cannot exist without an understanding of intersectionality and representation of all people within the margins.

Interested in learning more? Read more about intersectionality and how we can address it in our communities: