Race and disability are inextricably linked. In the United States, 61 million adults, or 26 percent of the adult population, have a disability. Black, Indigenous, and People of Color have a higher incidence of disability with one in four Black Americans and three in ten Indigenous people living with a disability. As we’ve seen during the pandemic, people of color with disabilities have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and job loss and are at an increased risk of falling below the poverty line. About 26 percent of people with disabilities people live below the poverty line, with Black and Indigenous individuals with disabilities having the highest rate of poverty, at 36 percent and 34 percent, respectively. Adding gender to the mix, the Center for American Progress found that women with disabilities have a poverty rate of 22.9 percent — double that of women without a disability and five percent more than for men with disabilities.

Knowing this, we as philanthropic organizations can’t address poverty, race, and disability as separate issues. If we attempt a siloed approach, then we are not going to get to the solutions. Understanding the intertwined nature of these disparities and applying disability-explicit and race-explicit lenses are critical to achieving racial equity and economic inclusion. As we seek opportunities to close the racial wealth gap, we must take disability into account.

What’s Missing When We Leave Disability Out of the Conversation

If we overlook disability in our work, then we are overlooking the outdated, discriminatory policies and systems that prevent us from achieving economic justice. The Americans with Disabilities Act and our other laws recognize that people with disabilities have a fundamental civil right to participate fully in our society, yet our system of benefits that provide life-supporting services has asset limits. How can we talk about economic opportunity but ignore the fact that this system penalizes people with disabilities by forcing them to make a choice between an opportunity to earn competitive wages or the ability to access the support and services that they need to live in their communities? In that case, we are not actually addressing poverty. And it is both ableist language and ableist policy when people talk about “ladders” of economic opportunity and mobility. They ignore the fact that those ladders do not actually extend to people with disabilities.

Read the full article about centering race and disability by Dr. Helene Gayle and Rebecca Cokley at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.