Latrea Wyche/ Contributing Writer
This is an issue that I have been speaking on for years, the struggle of being a woman of color, and having a disability. The experience of disability is different for members of the African American community, just as I am sure the experience of disability is different for the members of various other sub-communities. For the sake of this article, we will be focusing on the African-American community. From birth, African- Americans are born into a world that does not make all needed resources available for them to flourish and succeed the way other groups have. There is a link between students with no-apparent disabilities, (I want to pulse right here for a minute, just because a disability is not apparent does not mean that someone does not have one. The thing that people need to understand about disability, is it manifests itself in various forms. We are not always going to be able to look at a person and recognize whether or not they have a disability). where there is also and over-classification of impairments with challenging behaviors that place them on the fast track of the “school to prison pipeline”.
For those who are not familiar with the “School to Prison Pipeline”, this system is defined as the disproportionate tendency of minors and young adults from disadvantaged backgrounds to become incarcerated, because of increasingly harsh school and municipal policies. We already know that more than half of the prison population are African- Americans males. Every 1 out of 15 African- Americans males are imprisoned each year compared to 1 in 106. It has been learned that 1 out of 3 African- Americans males can expect to go to jail and some point in their lifetime. Our society focuses on the word “criminal” not really trying to gain an understanding of the larger issue that lies within these institutions. A surprising fact that I just learned while doing this research, 60% of the inmate population has some form of a learning disability. The struggles inmates face on a daily basis vary, however, they share the common experience of having their disability either undiagnosed or ignored. In many cases we see inmates being reprimanded and disciplined for inappropriate behavior and not following rules and regulations of the facility. Most of the time their physical or cognitive impairment is not taken into consideration and unfair punishment is served. This again highlights the school to prison pipeline due to the simple fact that while attending school their disabilities went unnoticed or diagnosed incorrectly. This inmate population is then composed of a group of African-Americans who are left to navigate their world with a known or unknown impairment whether it is physical or cognitive.
The next question becomes what can we do about this? I believe that prison reform is just one part of the problem, we have to also look at our education system as it relates to disability and preparing children with disabilities for the real world, Are we providing them with the tools and techniques needed to survive in this ever-changing world?. Another piece to this puzzle is home life, as an African-American parent of a child with a disability what are you instilling in that child? What are you telling that child about him or herself? And lastly, as a community, we need to become more educated about disability. It is 2020 there no reason that we should still be using the excuse that “I don’t understand disability.” These are some of the things to think about as we continue to move toward the future.
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