Brown V. Board of Education and the American with Disabilities Act: Vistas of Equal Educational Opportunities for African Americans

By Alston, Reginald J.; Russo, Charles J. et al. | The Journal of Negro Education, Summer 1994 | Go to article overview

Brown V. Board of Education and the American with Disabilities Act: Vistas of Equal Educational Opportunities for African Americans


Alston, Reginald J., Russo, Charles J., Miles, Albert S., The Journal of Negro Education


INTRODUCTION

Prior to the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by Congress in 1990, persons with disabilities occupied a similar position in status to African Americans during the period of de jure segregation. Individuals with disabilities did not typically enjoy equal access to traditional American institutions and amenities such as public schools, transit services, hotel and restaurant accommodations, entertainment venues, and employment opportunities. Thus, discrimination and denial were common experiences for members of the disabled community. Comparable to the emancipation ideals of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (1954), the ADA is aimed at dismantling discriminatory practices that deprive persons with disabilities of the freedoms afforded nondisabled citizens.

The significance of the ADA is reflected in the sheer number of persons that it potentially protects. According to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), there are 43 million persons in the United States with a chronic or permanent impairment resulting from disease, injury, or congenital malformation (Adams & Benson, 1990). In comparison to the percentage (8%) of White Americans with disabilities, a much larger percentage (14%) of African Americans have one or more disabilities (Bowe, 1992). Bowe reports that an African American with a disability is more likely to be female, to have less than a high school education, and to be unemployed. Only 18% of African American with disabilities were employed in 1990, and they earned less than $10,000 a year on the average (Asbury, Walker, Maholmes, Rackley, & White, 1991).

Given these statistics, it can be suggested that African Americans with disabilities experience the most severe underemployment, unemployment, undereducation, and miseducation compared to other disability groups. Thus, the empowerment objectives of the ADA have particular importance for African Americans with disabilities. Establishing a mandate of reasonable accommodations is one means of achieving the empowerment objective. A goal of the ADA's reasonable accommodations provision is to greatly increase the number of students with disabilities in primary, secondary, and postsecondary education. Reasonable accommodations may include providing academic program accommodations such as signers in the classroom, providing- students with learning disabilities additional time to complete tests, and obtaining special equipment for those with hearing impairments (Miles, Russo, & Gordon, 1991).

As Russo, Harris, and Sandidge (1994) note, Brown and its progeny spawned an era of equal educational opportunities for African Americans. It demolished the separate-but-equal doctrine of Jim Crow segregation and endeavored to ensure equity in student representation, teacher training, pupil-teacher ratios, and physical plant facilities through integration (Salamone, 1986; Tushnet, 1994). Subsequently, Brown's initial thrust for equal educational opportunities has been strengthened by the ADA and other laws against discrimination on the bases of race and disability.

The unique status o being African American and having a disability places one in the position of benefitting directly from both Brown and the ADA. An abundance of information exists chronicling the solidification of Brown, defining its meaning for African Americans, and describing implementation strategies. However, there is a paucity of literature examining how the ADA can improve the educational opportunities of African Americans with disabilities. Thus, since the ADA is the most sweeping antidiscrimination legislation since the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it is especially crucial for educators and human service professionals to be familiar with how the mandates of the ADA can be utilized to achieve educational equity and to improve professional preparation for African Americans with disabilities.

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