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Among people with disabilities, racial disparities take a toll, research shows

Diverse group of people waiting in hospital reception lobby to attend medical appointment
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"Half of adult disabled people, adults with disabilities in Ohio, identified that they had been the victim of some crime of violence over the past year. And that's fairly recent data. And so that's stunning to me," said John Corlett, president of the Center for Community Solutions.

Ohioans with disabilities who are people of color report worse outcomes across multiple facets of life, according to research by the Center for Community Solutions and Achievement Centers for Children released Monday.

The report found that people of color with disabilities in Ohio face more discrimination and inequity than their white counterparts.

"Inequities and discrimination experienced by people with disabilities are often exacerbated, or compounded, for those individuals who are also people of color," the research summary said, adding that people of color with disabilities are more likely to report poor health overall.

Causes for disparity include socioeconomic disadvantage and implicit bias within the health care system, according to CCS, citing an American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities study.

Ableism, or discrimination and social prejudice against people with disabilities, remains rampant in our society, said John Corlett, president of CCS, a nonpartisan think tank focused on solutions to health, social and economic issues in Ohio.

"There hasn't been sort of a sustained effort and advocacy effort on behalf of and with people with disabilities," Corlett said.

In September, the National Institutes of Health announced that people with disabilities will be designated a health disparity population, 33 years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which protects people with disabilities from discrimination.

American Indians, Alaskan Natives and Black people are more likely than their white counterparts to live with a disability, figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show.

Nearly a third of American Indians and Alaskan Natives and a quarter of Black people have a disability, the data show. That's compared to one in five white people, one in six Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders and Hispanics and one in ten Asians.

Racial disparities all affect children with disabilities.

"There is ample evidence that among children of color, a diagnosis of a developmental or intellectual disability is more common," according to the research.

The Center for Community Solutions researched the intersection of race and disability in Ohio for its latest report.

The research noted disparate treatment and access to services faced by children of color in schools. CCS's summary highlighted a 2021 report issued by the Ohio Department of Education, which found Ohio educators are two times as likely to identify Black students as having an intellectual disability, place Black students with disabilities in more restrictive settings and remove Black students with disabilities from the classroom for disciplinary reasons.

Ohio educators are three times more likely to identify Black students as having an emotional disturbance and to discipline Black students with disabilities through expulsion, according to the report.

Barriers to financial security are also a significant factor in the relationship between race and disabilities, the study shows, adding that the connection between race, disability and poverty is multi-faceted.

The research cited a report by the National Disability Institute, which noted that poverty can increase the likelihood of disability due to a myriad of factors such as environmental factors, employment challenges, medical expenses and exposure to violence.

"We still aren't supporting enough individual employment or individual work sites and increasing people's wages, because I think a lot of some of the issues that we see in that intersection between racism and ableism is around income," Corlett said.

But the research's findings around violence were the most surprising to Corlett. The research cited a Disability Rights Ohio report on policing and racial justice, which found that 30 to 50% of individuals subject to the use of force or killed by police have a disability. That risk cumulatively increases based on the person’s race, class, gender, and LGBTQ+ status, the report adds.

"Half of adult disabled people, adults with disabilities in Ohio, identified that they had been the victim of some crime of violence over the past year. And that's fairly recent data. And so that's stunning to me," Corlett said. "And then for children, they're three times more likely to experience something similar than their non-disabled counterparts."

Bernadette Kerrigan, CEO and President of Achievement Centers for Children said she hopes research like this leads to more conversations and action advocating for people of color with disabilities.

"Data matters, and we haven't seen data like this collected in a while in one comprehensive way," Kerrigan said. "I think the next is bringing families of color to share with us their experience. What would they like to see next and to begin calling systems to change based on their experiences."

Stephanie Metzger-Lawrence is a digital producer for the engaged journalism team at Ideastream Public Media.