Arlene Mayerson “Diss-Abled: Dissed if you’re this; Dissed if you’re that”


The modern day disability rights movement was founded on the principles of the civil rights movements of the 50’s and 60’s.  Many of the founders of our movement were part of the struggles for racial, ethnic and gender equality and saw the connections in their own experiences and histories.

Speaking to these similarities, Justice Marshall explained that people with disabilities:

“… have been subject to a ‘lengthy and tragic history,’ of segregation and discrimination that can only be called grotesque. … A regime of state-mandated segregation and degradation … that, in its virulence and bigotry, rivaled, and indeed paralleled, the worst excesses of Jim Crow … ” Cleburne v Cleburne Living Center 473 U.S. 432, 4566

So, put racial and disability discrimination together and the results are devastating for our school children.  An African American student is 3 times more likely to face suspension as students of all other races.  A student with a disability is 2 times more likely.  But an African American student with a disability is 4 times more likely to face suspension as students without disabilities of all races.  All of these students are more likely to face multiple suspensions – particularly for subjective offenses such as “defiance”.  Multiple suspensions drastically reduce the chances of graduating from high school and increase the chances of incarceration.

And still you may ask: What does all of this have to do with this artwork?

This piece was inspired by a client of mine whom I have watched and feared and worried would/could go down the School to Prison Pipeline.  The suspension notices which frame the picture are from his “educational” file.  This African American young man with invisible disabilities (learning disabilities and severe ADHD) is now 15 years old.  I have watched the look on his face change as years pass with failing grades, mounting suspensions, and no help from the school that did not teach him – that crushed any belief he had in the system.

Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF) used the disability rights laws, that were molded in the tradition of that great March on Washington, to give him a chance, a voice …

I hope not too little too late.

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