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The Struggle for Racial Equality is Inseparable from Disability Inclusion and All Human Rights Movements

Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa once said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

It is with that prompting (and a powerful press release we received from Disability Rights Washington) that LiveWorkPlay comments on the issues of injustice, violence, and racial discrimination that are making headlines across the world following the brutal killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Racism was not less of an issue before that tragedy, but the incident has helped focus citizens in all countries on systemic and attitudinal racism in our own cities and countries. It has awakened the world to countless racist incidents and lives lost that were too easily forgotten.

Racism is not a topic we tackle publicly very often at LiveWorkPlay, because we are focused on reducing and eliminating the discrimination, marginalization, and victimization of people with intellectual disabilities and autistic persons (and how to support their full inclusion in the social and economic life of their communities). We have more confidence in communicating about those issues, thanks to a large internal and external network of communities for discussing them with impacted individuals and their families over the past 25 years.

But the disability rights movement is inseparable from the human rights movements for racial, economic, and gender equity. Our work is rooted in the firm belief that all people deserve respect, dignity, and self-determination. As long as racism permeates systems (made possible by attitudes and actions of those leading and serving those systems) we will fall short of the diversity, equity, and inclusion goals for which we strive.

“Unless all of us are free, none of us will be free. Until all of us have made it, none of us have made it. We must open the doors and we must see to it they remain open, so that others can pass through.” ~ Rosemary Brown (1930-2003) first black woman elected to a Canadian legislature.

Minority populations that experience barriers to inclusion, including people with disabilities, will continue to be harmed and killed if we are not united in our determination for change. It is particularly incumbent upon those who us who work within the social justice movement to break free of our own silos and support each other in building a more equitable society.

We don’t have the answers but we know that it starts with listening to people, movements, and organizations that can help us be a part of the solution, and join with us in working towards a city, province, country, and world where differences such as skin colour, physical disability, sexual identity, and neurodivergence are not cause for fear, but rather cause for celebration of how our lives are truly made better through inclusive beliefs and actions.

Rosemary Brown, PC OC OBC (1930-2003) and Desmond Mpilo Tutu, OMSG CH GCStJ