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The intersection of Black and disabled identities

Clockwise from bottom left: Janice Jackson, Crystal Brockman and Keyonna Mayo are members of and advocates for the disabled community. The IMAGE Center for People with Disabilities is conducting focus groups to better understand the challenges that face people of color who live with disabilities, such as a combination of racist and ableist attitudes. Photos: Provided by guests
Clockwise from bottom left: Janice Jackson, Crystal Brockman and Keyonna Mayo are members of and advocates for the disabled community. The IMAGE Center for People with Disabilities is conducting focus groups to better understand the challenges that face people of color who live with disabilities, such as a combination of racist and ableist attitudes. Photos: Provided by guests

People with disabilities face challenges everyday in a world that mostly caters to able-bodied folks. For people of color those challenges are multiplied. We hear from three advocates - Crystal Brockington, Janice Jackson and Keyonna Mayo, from the IMAGE Center for People with Disabilities, about their life experiences and what they do to teach empathy and understanding.

Links: IMAGE Center, Expectations Matter, TransCen, IMAGE Center bike build, IMAGE Center What I Wish For customized devices, Women Embracing Abilities Now, Maryland Statewide Independent Living Council.

Sheilah Kast: We're on the record. I'm Sheilah Kast. Good morning. One in every four Americans lives with a disability. According to the latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Disabilities can be physical, cognitive, emotional and also invisible. The image Center for People with Disabilities in Towson provides creative solutions to the challenges associated with living with a disability. Today is an encore of our conversation from April with Krystal Brockington, director of the Out and About program. Brockington is also a certified Maryland Developmental Disabilities Administration support broker. I started by asking what the image Center provides for people in the disabled community.

CRYSTAL BROCKINGTON: The image center is part of the Aging and Disability Resource Centers and we serve the area for over ten years. We serve Baltimore County, Harford County and Baltimore City, where very small nonprofits staffed by people with disabilities. At least 90% of our staff are people with the disability professionals with disability. We also have sister centers for independent living that serve all of the areas throughout Maryland. So really the entire state is covered and we typically provide service to about several hundred people per year, and we have over about 20 programs and services available. Some of those include independent living. So we have independent living planning skills, trainings and information and referral services to help people who are just sort of stuck. They're not sure what to do. We're always a good call for that. We also do veterans support planning for veterans and the veteran directed care program. A lot of veterans will use home services through their VA benefits, and they just need help planning those services to cover throughout the entire month and year. We have an assistive technology program which is really awesome and offers some financial assistance for assistive technology. We also have a lending library and we are part of the Maryland Accessible Telecommunications Program that will help people get evaluated for various types of accessible telecommunications. And as it turns out, we see a lot of people don't even know, like, you know, what devices are out there.

SHEILAH KAST: You direct the out and about program. What is that for?

CRYSTAL BROCKINGTON: That is the nursing home transition program. We provide outreach to nursing facilities and we also assist people with applying for the Medicaid home and community-based services programs. And we also educate people about money falls to persons, which is like a few transition funds and benefits available to people leaving facilities. Mean we've also, you know, over time I think that it has been proven that it's less costly to age in place. So the image center has a number of programs aimed to help people do that.

SHEILAH KAST: The image center is in the process of conducting some focus groups. What are those about?

CRYSTAL BROCKINGTON: Yes. So our newest partnership is with the mid-Atlantic Regional ADA Center, and these are focus groups for people that are African American people of color that have disability. And 70% of the people that we serve are actually people of color or African Americans. So we decided that it was time to have this conversation to help people kind of explore and understand how we use our rights and access our rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act, right? Like if there's more room for understanding our rights and things like that, then maybe we could improve the knowledge and use to help reduce the disparities that people see in employment or community living. Actually, through a lot of the focus groups, many people say their first experience with the discrimination was in school.

SHEILAH KAST: This is on the record. I'm Sheilah Kast speaking with Crystal Brockington of the Image Center for People with Disabilities in Towson. The nonprofit provides solutions and support for those who live with disabilities and their caregivers. Brockington directs the Out and About program. Tell me more about what you are hoping to learn from these focus groups.

CRYSTAL BROCKINGTON: We're hoping to learn more about the experiences of people of color with disability. Really? Like, you know. Were you supported when you face discrimination or were you alone? Were you able to get help? Did you know where to go or was this like a long journey? And I think for some people it was a long journey, right? I mean, I think our goal is to eventually design, test and disseminate practical approaches and remedies to help improve people's knowledge and access. So like when they're facing something, they know how to say, well, you know, I'm protected under this act, you know, or this is my. Right to receive education and be accommodated.

SHEILAH KAST: Well, let me ask you, as as a woman of color living with a disability, what would you like listeners to better understand about your experience?

CRYSTAL BROCKINGTON: Um, you know, it's it is really a tough thing to pull apart because as you experience it, you might not at first until looking back, realize what happened. As far as disability. A lot of times people are facing like a certain type of stigma or pity, you know? Oh, and things like that. And then in different like structural barriers that perhaps with like creative solutions can be addressed. But when you find out that it's because of your race or your color, that's hate, right? That's hate and that's fear. And that's not something that is you know, you can exactly think your way out of that is based on a social conditioning. That has to change. Right? And sometimes it can be very dehumanizing. You know, it already is dehumanizing to have someone look at you and assume what your abilities are. Right. Just based on whatever they see. And then, you know, to have hate on top of it, it could be painful, you know? I have a different fight.

SHEILAH KAST: I have the impression you have felt this yourself. Can you tell me about a moment?

CRYSTAL BROCKINGTON: Definitely. I mean, you know, I faced it going to college. You know, I faced it where I was flat out told by one of the registrar's, a person like you shouldn't be in an institution like this, you know? And at that point, I hadn't even gotten to the part of asking for accommodations, you know. But.

SHEILAH KAST: But you felt in that moment it was aimed at you because you're African American, not because of your disability.

CRYSTAL BROCKINGTON: Right. Right. You know, most of the time I have to disclose my disability because I have a hidden disability, you know, So I kind of have to really have a candid conversation about with folk about how my disability impacts me and what it is that I would need as an accommodation. But um, yeah, it's been tough, you know, even with medical visits, you know, you go to the doctor and you're saying, Hey, you know, I know I have these XYZ problems, but I feel like I could do more and maybe they don't believe in you, or maybe they just don't want to take the time to speak to you because of who you are, right? Because of your race or your heritage. So it's definitely hard to say. Separate the two and figure out which one is one more over the other versus just the overall experience of it.

SHEILAH KAST: What do you think might come from these focus groups?

CRYSTAL BROCKINGTON: I think as a community we're going to learn more about each other. That has definitely already occurred, and I think that people will learn that it's okay to speak about it. You know, I think in certain ways there's still fear about even talking about it or like a lot of people battle their obstacles individually and not in a unified way. Right. And so I think that at least some of that community building and coalition will come. And then I also believe that through the work that the regional center is doing, I think we'll actually we'll have a means of designing and testing practical approaches to help people access the information or get help faster. Right. So that they're not saying, okay, this just occurred to me, well, I'll sit on it for a few weeks, maybe I won't say anything about it. Right. Or maybe I just won't get that job. I won't get that job. I won't go to that school. You know, I'll find somewhere else that's more accepting, right? So I think we'll be able to break down more barriers.

SHEILAH KAST: Crystal, I'm grateful to you for talking to us about this. And it's important for those of us who who aren't thinking about this often to hear from you. So I'm very grateful. Thank you.

CRYSTAL BROCKINGTON: Thank you. Thank you for giving us the platform for doing this.

SHEILAH KAST: Crystal Brockington directs the Out and About program at the Image Center for People with Disabilities in Towson. We've been talking about work they're doing to better address challenges some of their clients have, navigating both racist and ableist attitudes. Short break on the record when we're back to advocates for the disabled community, talk about their personal experiences. I'm Sheilah Kast. Stay with us.

SHEILAH KAST: Welcome back to On the Record. I'm Sheilah Kast. Today, we're revisiting a conversation from April about the layered experience of living with a disability and living as a person of color. We just heard about focus groups conducted by the Image Center, which offers resources and support for people with disabilities. The Image Center hopes input from the focus groups will help educate their clients, business owners and the public. Next, we heard from two advocates in the disability community, Janice Jackson, who is chair of the Image Center Board and founder of WEAN Women Embracing Abilities Now and Keyonna Mayo, who works in the Image Center's out and about and connect grow programs. First, Janice explained why she started with an Women Embracing Abilities Now.

JANICE JACKSON: Sure. Well WEAN is my baby and was birthed out of three support groups that I've had over the span of my life as a woman with a disability. In 1984, I joined the community as a 24-year-old woman. So I went from my able bodied woman to a woman living in a disability community and back in the 80s, you know, pre ADA pre a lot of the legislations that we have now. You know, there wasn't a lot of support out there for a woman with a disability. I didn't know any other women with disabilities. I had no one to go to to just. Talk to or someone to just help me navigate through the disability community. And that was the beginning of my first support group while I was still in rehab because I know I wasn't the only woman feeling like that. So I gathered, you know, the women that were there with me, and that was the start of connecting with other women and just going over, you know, our challenges and what we had to face. So, you know, three support groups later back in 2005, actually combined all those support groups together to establish wean women embracing abilities now. And we've been going strong since that time and just really have reached thousands of women with the connection that they're not the only one that's going through what they're going through.

SHEILAH KAST: And when you said you joined the disability community, but of course, it's not a choice what happened?

JANICE JACKSON: Yes. At the age of 24, I was standing talking to a girl friend of mine and this young guy, 18 years old, was smoking a cigarette and he dropped it in his lap and lost control of his car and hit me. He came up where I was and hit me and I flew 40ft in the air and broke my neck. Oh, my.


JANICE JACKSON: Yeah. So at the age of 24, my life was, you know, on track to where I wanted to be. My goals were being met. And in a matter of a second, my life changed forever. And they flew me to shock trauma. And that started my journey, you know, through the disability experience and never knowing I would be here 40 years later. But I believe this was my calling and this is where I was supposed to do to impact my mission on helping women with disabilities.

SHEILAH KAST: Keyonna, we heard earlier about the image Center's out and about program. Tell us more about Connect Grow.

KEYONNA MAYO: With that program. You know, we're just getting people, um, teenagers and young adults from the ages of 14 to 24, you know, those independent living skills and that job readiness training. And we're just building up their confidence, getting them to set their goals and things that they're interested in, helping them with their resume and just doing even more interviews.

SHEILAH KAST: You both participated in the focus groups conducted by the Image Center, looking at the intersection of being a person of color and a person with a disability. Keyonna, as a black woman in the disabled community, can you give me an example of what you've experienced?

KEYONNA MAYO: Well, you know, when I, um, when I got out of the hospital and I did my rehab, um, I called up the doors program and my mother went with me. I had my resume and, you know, my portfolio because I graduated college with a degree in child development. So, my goal was to get back to teaching and go to doors. And I guess it maybe should have been at home in that it was a young lady that was outside, and she was actually crying. But I was late for my own appointment, and I just wanted to get in there and talk to the counselor about how they can help me get back into the workforce. And I've done all of this talking. And the first thing that he says to me is, well, you know, I'm not a wheelchair expert, but don't know if you'll be able to chase after the children, you know? And in that moment, I needed to be lifted up and not really put down. And I don't know if he he's just been there too long or did race play a part of it or whether just because of my disability, it really, you know, took a little blow to my confidence. You know, I'm thinking I'm coming here and I'll be leaving here with some guidance and a job, you know, and some places to go to figure this all out. And that's not what I got.

SHEILAH KAST: Janice, have you had an experience like that.

JANICE JACKSON: As a person with a disability? We are the educators, you know, and things that we face some people don't even know. That they have biases towards. But unless they're art or unless we speak up on our injustices, some people will never get it. And you know, as a woman with a disability, a black woman with a disability and now aging woman with a disability. All of my intersections are here and I can't separate one from the other. But what I can do is educate people. And yes, I've had situations where, you know, ableism stepped into the room where, you know, people look at things through the lens of someone without a disability. But as an educator, you know, that's how I handle situations because getting mad and upset is just adding to the negative stereotypes that, you know, people with disabilities are angry. So I've always channeled myself and being that that voice for our community because we have to be heard and if we don't speak up, nothing will ever change.

SHEILAH KAST: Janice, what do you hope comes from the focus groups that the Image Center is doing?

JANICE JACKSON: What I hope to come from these focus groups is just education. You know, we have to have the hard conversations. You know, we have to educate our community, you know, especially those of us. Who are dealing with different isms, whoever's racism, sexism, ableism. You know, and when I roll into a room, I'm not sure which ism is on display at that point, but I know it's there. But, you know, some may be experiencing stuff but can't put a name to it. But these focus groups really just give us a platform to open up to have that real talk. And really it's about education and just giving them ammunition as we struggle through the battles that we face every day in our community.

SHEILAH KAST: Keyonna, what are you looking for from the focus groups?

KEYONNA MAYO: You know, that's my hope, too, that, you know, it just really people understand some of the things that we we do go through and it makes them you know, when they see something wrong, they could speak up and say something, you know. Equality for us is equality for everybody.

SHEILAH KAST: This is on the record on WYPR, I’m Sheilah Kast speaking with disability rights advocates Keyonna Mayo and Janice Jackson. We're talking about their experiences as a women of color who also live with a disability. The Image Center for People with Disabilities is conducting focus groups on the topic.

SHEILAH Kast: Janice The Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in July 1990. It defines regulations required to accommodate people with all kinds of disabilities that allow them to carry out their everyday activities. And yet, more than three decades after the ADA became law, frustrations remain about access and equality. Janice, why do you think that is?

JANICE JACKSON: I truly believe, and this is with any law, you know, you can have laws for days, but if these laws are not enacted or enforced, then they're just words on a piece of paper. And while the ADA has allowed us to move and to gain some momentum, we still have a long way to go. You know, we're still fighting those same battles as hard as we were before the Americans with Disabilities Act. You know, every area that we deal with, it seems like we have taken steps back. You know, the things that we're facing now, housing, there's no housing there’s, you know, transportation, education, employment, you know, all of these are still battles for our community. And, you know, there's been you know, we've undergone some social and racial reckoning with like the MeToo movement and the Black Lives Matter movement. But the disability community is yet to see a movement, the movement that we need to be successful as a minority.

SHEILAH KAST: Keyonna in July, it'll be 33 years since the ADA became law. What are your thoughts about why frustrations are still around?

KEYONNA MAYO: I'll be 40, you know, like this year, and just to think about it, have benefited, you know, over these 17 years being in the disability community. Yes, I have. But there's still so much more that we have to go, you know, to get true equality. And the hardest part is changing hearts and minds. You know, it's getting people to see that, you know, it's just not about the average disabled person. It's about equality for all of us. If I'm able to freely get on the sidewalk and go and live my life, you know, that is the mother with her stroller is able to my aunt, who had knee replacement is able to you know. And so we just we have to get everyone thinking that, you know you just can't think of yourself sometimes you got to think of the community as a whole and what we all need. And you know that true equality, until we are free, really, none of us are free.

SHEILAH KAST: Janice, what do you see as solutions to some of these challenges?

JANICE JACKSON: It starts with each individual. You know, my mom used to tell me that everyone can't do everything, but everyone can do something. And it starts with people breaking down these attitudinal barriers, dealing with their personal feelings about someone who's different from them. You know, because as we change our attitudes, and we change how we look at people with disabilities or how we look at people who are African American or we look at people just different. The work starts with a person. And if I think if people just start being real with themselves and having those hard conversations with themselves, I think together, you know, these people can come with a clear vision of just helping someone, you know, that needs help and in their community and not just turning a blind eye or live with those biases and prejudices. So I think it starts with individual people and then it branches out into the communities.

SHEILAH KAST: I'm grateful to you both for getting us started on this conversation and these hard questions. Thank you.

JANICE JACKSON: You're welcome.

KEYONNA MAYO: You're welcome.

SHEILAH KAST: Keyonna Mayo works with clients at the Image Center for People with Disabilities. Janice Jackson, who chairs the image Center's board, founded WEAN Women Embracing Abilities Now. We've been talking about their life experiences, how they navigate both racist and ableist attitudes and the need for education. We have more information about all the resources we discussed at the On the Record page at npr.org. I'm Sheilah Kast. Glad you're with us on the record. Come back tomorrow.

Sheilah Kast is the host of On The Record, Monday-Friday, 9:30-10:00 am.
Melissa Gerr is a Senior Producer for On the Record. She started in public media at Twin Cities Public Television in St. Paul, Minn., where she is from, and then worked as a field producer for Oregon Public Broadcasting in Portland. She made the jump to audio-lover in Baltimore as a digital media editor at Mid-Atlantic Media and Laureate Education, Inc. and as a field producer for "Out of the Blocks." Her beat is typically the off-beat with an emphasis on science, culture and things that make you say, 'Wait, what?'