A New Year and New Possibilities for the Disability Community: Part Two
By Gerard Robinson, Executive Director, Center for Advancing Opportunity
As mentioned in part one of this two-part blog series, 57 million people with a disability live in the United States. We are one to five names removed from personally knowing someone who does. The disability community is large and varied. Disability advocacy in turn can touch all areas of public life including: entertainment, state government and the Criminal justice system.
Hollywood: Television shows play an important role in shaping how Americans think about the normalcy of people with disabilities in mainstream life. The Emmy-award-winning Born This Way, which focuses on several adults with Down Syndrome, is one example. The comedy Speechless also spotlights the challenges and joys of being a person with a disability or of being the family member of someone with a disability. The creator of the show, Scott Silveri, has a brother with a disability. In addition, Micah Fowler, who plays one of the stars on the show, has a disability himself.
This summer, I had the honor to participate in an event RespectAbilitysponsored titled “From Hollywood to Capitol Hill: The Future of Americans with Disabilities.” People from diverse populations and abilities spoke with one voice to highlight how people with disabilities are involved in public policy, education, sports, and other professions. With this information, we should encourage leaders in Hollywood to work with us, and we should also encourage members of the disability community to audition for television shows and movies, and to work behind the scenes as a writer, producer or director.
Governors: In 2018, a gubernatorial election will occur in 36 states and three territories. Education will play a role in each candidate’s campaign, even if words such as “school” or “education” are not mentioned with regularity in campaign ads or during televised debates. In fact, candidates for governor discuss education when they talk about jobs, economic growth, or public safety. And given that overall state investment in education in fiscal year 2017 was $384.8 billion, which is the largest general fund spending category for most states, Pre-K-20 education is a major component of any governor’s budget. Our job is to make sure we hold governors accountable to students with disabilities.
Criminal justice: One report estimates that approximately 750,000 people behind bars have a disability. In 2011-12, approximately 3-in-10 inmates in state and federal prisons, and 4-in-10 in local jails, reported at least one disability. Women were more likely to report a disability than men, and white prisoners or those of two or more races reported more disabilities than any other group. Regarding age, 77 percent of inmates 35 and older had at least one disability. Today’s prisoners likely had disabilities when they were young, and data about this population is not good.
For example, data from the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights identified students with disabilities represent 13 percent of the public school population but account for 25 percent of arrests and referrals to law enforcement. Black and Latino students with disabilities have the highest suspension rate of all students with disabilities. This plays a part in greasing the school-to-prison pipeline. One way to address criminal justice reform is to begin in the early years, and to provide needed services to adults behind bars today.
In closing, let us give serious consideration for how to use one or more of the five factors in this article to offer new possibilities for the disability community in 2018.
Gerard Robinson is the Executive Director of the Center for Advancing Opportunity (CAO), a research and education initiative created by a partnership with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, the Charles Koch Foundation, and Koch Industries. CAO supports faculty and students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and other postsecondary institutions to develop research-based solutions to the most pressing education, criminal justice, and entrepreneurship issues in fragile communities throughout the United States.
Prior to CAO, Robinson worked as a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a Washington, D.C.-based public policy think tank committed to expanding liberty, increasing individual opportunity and strengthening free enterprise. Robinson’s research areas included school choice in the public and private sectors; prison education and reentry programs; regulatory development and implementation of K-12 policy; the role of for-profit institutions in education; and, the role of community colleges and Historically Black Colleges and Universities in adult advancement
Robinson earned an Ed.M. from Harvard, a B.A. from Howard, and an A.A. from El Camino Community College. In 2011, Bluefield College awarded him an honorary doctorate for his work to improve learning opportunities for students at all levels. He is married and has three daughters.