The Intersection of Disability and Diversity: The Importance of Inclusion

Four people sit on a dock. One is in a wheelchair.

For many people with disabilities throughout history, the battle for inclusion, acceptance, and equity has been inherently connected to other fights for civil rights. Today, it’s impossible to understand diversity without also understanding disability. And, to create spaces that are inclusive in terms of disability and diversity, it’s crucial to think carefully about how these two ideas can overlap.


Disability and Diversity: Understanding Intersectionality

Since the beginning of the Disability Rights Movement, identifying the link between disability and diversity has been key. That’s because, for many people with disabilities, the weight of other social stigmas or expectations can be especially heavy. To truly understand why, it’s vital to first understand the concept of intersectionality. 

Intersectionality recognizes the interconnectedness of social categorizations like race, gender, and class. It understands that overlapping systems of discrimination create unique challenges that differ from those of individual groups. 

In other words, intersectionality posits that a person with multiple marginalized identities (or whose identity draws from multiple marginalized groups) faces different challenges than a person with one. 

For example, a woman of color may face challenges unique to her role as a woman, a person of color, and as a woman of color. These three distinct systems of discrimination can all have their own impacts, and it’s necessary to recognize each one to truly support the person on the other end.

Marginalized Communities: Disproportionately Affected

While anyone can experience disabilities, research suggests that some populations are more likely to live with one or more disabilities than others.

A lower socioeconomic status, which disproportionately affects racially and ethnically marginalized communities, can significantly impact health, including the development of disabilities. It comes as no surprise, then, that rates of “severe” disability are noticeably higher among communities of color

Non-Hispanic African Americans, for instance, show the highest prevalence of severe disability due in part to higher rates of obesity, poverty, and chronic health conditions as compared to non-Hispanic White individuals.

So, what does all of this mean? For one thing, it means conversations around disability should consider the unique barriers marginalized community members might face. 

It also means that discussing diversity without giving those with disabilities an equal platform leaves out a crucial piece of the puzzle. 

Any workplace, organization, or individual looking to be inclusive toward people with disabilities must also be inclusive toward diversity across the board. Likewise, it’s necessary to address discrepancies in the experiences and care people with disabilities have access to across different communities.

Disability Is a Form of Diversity

While it’s important to recognize the role of disability in the life of a person already impacted by intersectionality, it’s also key to note that disability is a form of diversity itself. 

It makes sense to think about disability much like we would race, gender, class, etc., in conversations surrounding equity and inclusion. This is not to equate one group’s challenges to another’s but to recognize that any form of diversity can create the potential for mistreatment. 

It also emphasizes the significance of disability inclusion itself – just like we should work to include people of all races, genders, and backgrounds in the workplace, culture, etc., we should work to include people with disabilities of all and any kind.

The Importance of Creating Disability and Diversity Inclusion

Clearly, disability and diversity inclusion ought to have a fundamental role in our homes, offices, and larger culture.

The two ideas can be intrinsically linked; those who must grapple with disability inclusion also must juggle diversity inclusion, and vice versa. But they can also be understood as separate but overlapping phenomena that uniquely shape how a person experiences life. 

Regardless of how you plan to incorporate disability and diversity inclusion in the workplace, in your classroom, or anywhere else, it helps to have some firsthand insight into how you can support others.

At NeuroNav, we strive to be a hub for quality information about disability rights and resources in California and across the nation. We work with individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities and their families to create services and support based on their goals. Contact us and schedule a free consultation for more information, or check out the rest of our disability resources to learn more about important topics like these.

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