Black Americans with disabilities are deserving of dignity, respect, and equal opportunity to achieve the American Dream. Black History Month celebrates the resilience and talents of Black people, including Black disabled people. This country was founded upon the idea that all people are created equal and should be treated equally. However, it is important to acknowledge that racism and ableism together are longstanding barriers to the full participation and independence of Black people with disabilities. America has made significant progress, but there is more work to do to become an inclusive, accessible, and equitable nation.
From the outset, the Biden-Harris Administration has taken historic action to advance equity through Executive Orders, administrative actions, and the provision of funding and resources. Across the whole of the federal government, agencies are examining their policies and programs for disparities that have made it difficult for Black Americans and people with disabilities to thrive in their communities – at work, at school, and at home. The Administration has delivered real change and will continue to work towards equitable outcomes and opportunities for Black disabled Americans.
Apprenticeship. Registered Apprenticeship is an industry-driven, high quality career pathway for employers to develop and prepare their future workforce, and individuals to obtain paid work experience, classroom instruction, and a portable, nationally-recognized credential. The number of apprenticeships has grown 70% since 2007. In October 2022, as part of its Partnership on Inclusive Apprenticeships initiative, the Department of Labor (DOL) launched an Inclusive Apprenticeship Assessment of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HCBUs) to gain insights from diverse HBCU stakeholders on their current understanding of apprenticeship and how to create and expand apprenticeship programs, particularly for Black Americans with disabilities.
Financial Empowerment. According to US Census Bureau data, the highest poverty rate for Black people with disabilities is at 36%, the highest among any group. One third of Black households with a household member with a disability spend more than 50% of household income on housing. In response, DOL developed a toolkit and held webinars focused on financially empowering Black disabled Americans and people with disabilities from other underserved communities.
Understanding the role of Black disabled workers in the economy. In August 2022, DOL hosted an event on Expanding Inclusive and Accessible Apprenticeships for Black Americans with Disabilities in High Growth, High Demand Fields to better understand and address gaps in equity specific to Black Americans. The event gave participants from diverse industries and backgrounds the chance to discuss policies and practices that can help drive the career advancement of Black Americans with disabilities in high-growth, high-demand fields. Following up on this, in 2023, DOL researchers are studying the contributions of Black workers with disabilities in skilled trades such as construction, installation, maintenance and repair, production, transportation and material moving. The data that researchers glean will inform the design and outreach of DOL policies and programs to better serve Black workers with disabilities.
Promoting equitable disability determinations. Although African American people make up just 12% of the United States population, they make up about 35% of people with kidney failure. In 2022, the Social Security Administration (SSA) ended the agency’s use of a race-based estimated glomerular filtration rate (or eGFR) to measure kidney impairment, which was leading to the misdiagnosis of kidney impairment as less severe for many African Americans. Adjudicators will now use a single eGFR for all claimants regardless of race. This change in policy conforms with scientific advancements and recommendations from the medical community and kidney patients.
Identifying inequities in Social Security programs. Since 1987, there has been a decline in race and ethnicity data in Social Security records. SSA is working to improve its data collection to help determine whether different groups are underrepresented in Social Security programs, provide insight into which programs are particularly important to different communities, and examine whether there are differences in benefit levels based on race and ethnicity. In 2022, SSA compiled and published research and statistics detailing the demographic makeup of SSA program populations. In addition, SSA made their Racial Equity Research, Statistics, and Data Resources available to the public.
Implementing the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL): Prevention and elimination of digital discrimination. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) created a Task Force to oversee development of rules and policies to combat digital discrimination and to promote equal access to broadband throughout the United States. The FCC is considering expanding the definition of “equal access” under BIL to promote greater adoption and use of high-speed broadband, especially among populations experiencing a range of inequalities based a protected characteristic, or various attributes or social determinants that limit their full digital engagement. To facilitate this, in December 2022, the FCC published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) seeking comments on whether to adopt recommendations that address age, disability, and level of English proficiency. In addition, the FCC proposes to revise its informal consumer complaint process to accept complaints of digital discrimination.
Addressing disproportionate use of school discipline on Black students with disabilities. Data has shown that while Black students are only 17.7% of students with disabilities served under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), they represent 30.5% of the in-school suspensions, 35.7% of the out-of-school suspensions, and 39% of the expulsions in K-12 public schools. These disparities are widespread regardless of the type of disciplinary action, level of school poverty, or type of public school attended. In July 2022, the Department of Education released comprehensive guidance on IDEA’s discipline provisions and a second guidance on the protections from discriminatory discipline under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. These resources are intended to help public elementary and secondary schools meet the needs of students with disabilities and avoid the use of exclusionary discipline.
Supporting Black children with disabilities and their families. The Department of Education provides funding to states under IDEA Part C—the Program for Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities—to coordinate and deliver early intervention services for infants and toddlers ages birth to 2 with disabilities and their families. Evidence has shown that historically, Black families and their children have been underserved by Part C. Expanding equitable access to high-quality early childhood supports and education is a priority for the Biden-Harris Administration. The Department has invested $4 million in training programs at HBCUs, Tribal Colleges and Universities, and Minority Serving Institutions to increase the number of early intervention providers in communities of color. The Department has also established a new technical assistance center that will support states in implementing evidence-based strategies for conducting outreach to families typically underserved by Part C programs, such as by employing culturally and linguistically responsive practices. On December 14th, 2022, the Office of Special Education Programs hosted a digital event to announce and provide an overview of new resource guides to help States increase access to early intervention services for infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families. IDEA Part C has strong evidence of improving outcomes for children and improving equity by encouraging states to increase access for Black children and their families.
Strengthening nondiscrimination in health care.The Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office for Civil Rights issued a proposed rule to strengthen nondiscrimination in health care on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, and age under the Affordable Care Act. The NPRM recognizes that people with disabilities — and especially people with disabilities who are members of racial and ethnic groups that have historically faced discrimination and structural disadvantages in the United States — experience disproportionately poor health status. The proposed rule ensures there are legal protections in a diversity of health programs and activities.
Measuring the quality of home- and community-based services (HCBS) and promoting equity for Black older adults and individuals with disabilities. Medicaid’s HCBS provide support to older adults and individuals with disabilities who may need assistance with daily activities. Over 7 million people receive HCBS. However, research has shown that Black HCBS users are less likely to receive case management services, equipment, technology, environmental modification services, and nursing services. In July 2022, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released the first-ever HCBS quality measure set to promote both consistent quality measurement within and across state Medicaid HCBS programs. CMS is encouraging states to adopt the measure set to improve the quality of HCBS. This is a critical step to promoting health equity, as it can help states identify racial, ethnic, and other disparities in quality, experience of care, and outcomes among the millions of people receiving long-term services and supports.
Enforcing the integration mandate of the Americans with Disabilities Act. In June 2021, the Department of Justice issued a findings letter concluding that Maine failed to provide behavioral health services to children in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs, unnecessarily relying on segregated settings to provide these services, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. In addition, the letter noted a study that highlighted the disproportionate number of children with disabilities in juvenile detention in Maine and indicated that youth of color experience worse outcomes in Maine’s juvenile justice system. As one example, the study found that Black children are detained at eight times their share of the population and are committed or sentenced to juvenile detention at five times their share of the population.
Improving Equity in Entrepreneurship. In September 2022, HHS began funding a research grant at Langston University, a land grant HBCU focused on reducing employment disparities for Black people with disabilities and other multiply marginalized disabled people. A focus of the project’s studies will examine entrepreneurial outcomes of a new innovative model that supports Black adults with disabilities and other multiply marginalized entrepreneurs with disabilities to create small businesses that lead to self-employment and close the wealth gap.Protecting Black Americans’ access to housing by combating housing discrimination. Following President Biden’s Presidential Memorandum directing his Administration to address racial discrimination in the housing market, the Department of Housing and Urban Development published an NPRM in January 2023 to fulfill obligations under the Fair Housing Act to Affirmatively Further Fair Housing. This rule will help overcome patterns of segregation and to hold state, localities, and public housing agencies that receive federal funds accountable for ensuring that underserved communities have equitable access to affordable housing opportunities.