Disability Rights and Black History Month

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Disability Rights Texas is proud to celebrate Black History Month 2021. This year we’re looking at the intersection of Black history and disability rights. We’re featuring the following people on social media throughout the month, and a few more in our February newsletter. These are just a few of the many Black lives who are making or have made remarkable contributions to the disability rights movement.

Our thanks to the National Disability Rights Network for assisting us with this content.

Lois Curtis
We begin our celebration of Black History Month by remembering Lois Curtis. She was diagnosed at an early age with mental and intellectual disabilities and placed in a Georgia psychiatric facility at 11 years old where she remained until she was 29. A state official created a policy that kept Lois and others with disabilities in hospitals, but that policy was challenged as unlawful segregation and a violation of the ADA in the well-known lawsuit, Olmstead v. L.C. and E.W. Lois stepped up to fight for her rights and the rights of others as a plaintiff in the case. The Supreme Court finally ruled in 1999 that people with disabilities must be allowed to live in the most appropriate integrated community setting.

Since this landmark decision, some people with disabilities are still being illegally and wrongfully confined in facilities. In 2019, Disability Rights Texas went to court on behalf of several plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit against the state of Texas for violating the ADA and Olmstead. We are still awaiting a verdict.

Christopher M. Bell
A renowned Disability Studies Scholar, he challenged the field’s whitewashing of disability history and the continued erasure of Black Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) with disabilities. Himself a Black gay man with HIV, Bell was unafraid to critique the absence of intersectional perspectives across the disability community. Although Bell passed away in 2009, he remains a revered intellectual inspiring the present-day work of academics and advocates globally.

Imani Barbarin
Imani Barbarin is a disability rights advocate, public speaker, and writer who communicates about the intersection of race, disability, and feminism. “The disability space needs to be more inclusive of [the Black community], and I’m seeing great change,” said Imani. “But there’s so much more that we can do.” Watch this video to learn more about what she has to say.


Sam Gleese
Sam Gleese grew up with a visual disability and lost his sight completely in 1979. He has held many disability advocacy roles including being the first ADA Coordinator for the city of Jackson, Mississippi. Guided by an unbreakable faith, he devoted 40 years of his life to disability advocacy and religious ministry. “My belief is that we must work together to improve society and make it a good place for everyone to live regardless of personalities or life beliefs,” said the Reverend. “I encourage all of us to work harder to make this place a better place for everyone to live regardless of whether they have a disability or not.”