‘African Americans and the Disability Experience’ sheds light on struggles for equality African Americans with disabilities have faced

A five-panel banner stands outside of the Center for Students with Disabilities in Wilbur Cross highlighting African Americans who experienced disabilities. The exhibit will run through March 2. (Olivia Stenger/The Daily Campus) 

“African Americans and the Disability Experience,” an exhibit that displays a five-panel banner with images, text and historical dates, highlights both the struggles and accomplishments of African Americans with disabilities from colonial times to the present. Each banner closely examines a specific aspect of their experiences, including Brown v. Board of Education and civil rights. The exhibit will be on campus from Feb. 27 to March 2 and is being displayed by UConn’s Center for Students with Disabilities (CSD).

The exhibit is located outside of the CSD offices, which are on the second floor of the Wilbur Cross Building across from the Center for Career Development. Each banner contains information about a specific topic, using text to explain its history, as well as visuals such as pictures, logos, portraits and documents. The display is both engaging and incredibly informative.

From left to right, the exhibit’s banners are titled “Colonial Through Reconstruction,” which explains the limited care African Americans received as slaves or free men; “Segregation in Slavery and in Freedom,” which describes how African Americans with disabilities were given separate institutions and schools; “Black Bodies in American Culture,” which discusses the exploitation of African Americans throughout media and scientific experimentation; “Advocacy and Achievement,” a more positive banner that explores the organizations and institutions established specifically for the care and advancement of African Americans with disabilities and “Desegregation,” which sheds light on African Americans finally being integrated and receiving the same level of care and treatment as all other Americans.

The display’s highlights include the text, “Thomas Wiggins, also known as Blind Tom, was an autistic savant able to play music on the piano after hearing a song only once,” “Some institutions were built specifically for African Americans with disabilities” and “The Brown v. Board decision did not wholly stop segregation or racist discrimination in the United States.” Some images that stand out include images of old insane asylums and public health ads.

The exhibit has been provided by the Museum of disABILITY History, located in Buffalo, New York. The museum has several traveling exhibits as well as several permanent exhibits on display. It was founded by People.Inc, a non-profit organization created to provide people with disabilities support to participate and succeed in society. Last semester, the museum provided UConn with a few displays including “In the Game: disABILITY & Sports” and “War and Disability.”

“African Americans and the Disability Experience” is part of CSD’s efforts to raise awareness for people living with disabilities. When we think of our population, they are often ignored and pushed aside. They have had to fight for every right given to them, which is something that could be taken for granted by able-bodied people. African Americans have had to fight even harder for these rights, and it is incredibly important to give them the recognition and rights they deserve. The intersectionality of race and ability has created a large group of people that have been discriminated against and “African Americans and the Disability Experience” does an excellent job of shedding light on this.

The exhibit is open and available for anyone to view between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. for the remainder of the week.


Melissa Scrivani is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at melissa.scrivani@uconn.edu.