The Intersection of Disability and Civil Rights

Shakirah Holley

By Shakirah Holley
Reposted with permission

Most wouldn’t think to associate disability and civil rights. It’s not a common rationale in the minds of those who are able-bodied and not living with any form of disability. Yet, after attending the White House and National Council on Disability’s ceremony acknowledging the intersection of disability and civil rights, it became increasingly clear that the two are not mutually exclusive.

The conversation primarily focused on educating the community on the realities of the disability rights movement and how a lack of access for those with varying forms of disability is, in fact, a civil rights issue. As a marketing-communications practitioner my mind instantly began thinking about how the disparities in access to information arose. And I asked myself the very challenging question: Why, if disability rights issue is a civil rights issue, have I not been privy to the struggles of the movement?

In full disclosure–I am a Black woman and my blackness has, in many regards, warranted a full understanding of the work done by great men and women like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to open the door for my peers and I. But, I am also a Black woman whose close family members live with psychiatric disability, a salient form of disability. And yet, it never occurred to me that their lack of access was infringement upon their civil rights. This point was more eloquently expressed by Chai Feldblum, Commissioner of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, during yesterday’s panel when she said, “Too often, the needs of those with disabilities are considered an afterthought.”

Disability rights–as we see it–is an afterthought, indeed; the sign language interpreter that gets added to the event program at the last minute; the scurry to add a stage ramp; and the limited support for programs needed to help men and women with psychiatric disabilities.  Though this is an uphill battle, there is much more work to be done.

Organizations like the National Council on Disability and the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities are working actively to push the disability rights movement forward. Their work is not done in a vacuum. Through the development of coalitions, cohesive and concise communications; and strategic implementation, the disability rights movement will no longer be seen as segregated or as a fragmented issue. It will be acknowledged in the forefront of our minds as an issue that directly and indirectly impacts us all.

Shakirah Hill is the Senior Digital Strategist for Environics Communications, a marketing communications agency based in Washington, DC. Shakirah works with consumer brands and nonprofits to develop strategic digital programs that increase brand awareness and visibility. Find her on LinkedIn at:

Original version posted on February 28, 2014 at:

National Council on Disability • 1331 F Street, NW, Suite 850 • Washington, DC 20004