We are proud to announce our new line of work on race, disability, and equity. While EdTrust has historically supported disability advocacy organizations and engaged in coalitions to ensure that students with disabilities receive a high-quality education, this new initiative specifically highlights the unique experiences of students of color with disabilities. Aligning with self-advocates and their families who have pushed for asset framing (defining people by their strengths and contributions), social model of disability (people are disabled by barriers in society, not by their impairment or difference), and disability as a culture (disability as a community), we at EdTrust aim to uplift the voices and experiences of students of color with disabilities and their families to shift the narrative.

It has been nearly 50 years since the Education for All Handicapped Children Act was signed in 1975, guaranteeing that every child with a disability receives a free and appropriate education. The 2004 reauthorization of the law renamed the legislation as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which, in addition to updating the appropriate nomenclature, has provided additional guidance and protections for students with disabilities. As of the 2021-22 school year, approximately 7.3 million children ages 3 to 21 with disabilities were served under IDEA.

Students of color — particularly Black students — with disabilities are multiply marginalized both individually and systemically. For example, while Black students account for 15% of the general education population, they account for 17% of students with disabilities served under IDEA. Black students in special education are significantly disproportionate or overrepresented compared to their general education composition. These students have a unique educational experience, due to their intersectional identities, that is substantively different from those of both students of color without disabilities or white students with disabilities.

Students of color in special education have traditionally been plagued by deficit framing from the field (such as viewing and framing students’ disabilities as a “problem” to be “fixed”), above and beyond racism or ableism alone. While all students in special education face challenges such as access to high-quality teachers and instruction, students of color experience the additional challenges such as low expectations from teachers, bias in disability identification, and lack of culturally and linguistically appropriate assessments.

Over the coming months, EdTrust looks forward to expanding our knowledge as an organization on disability equity and access. We will produce a series of resources for advocates examining key considerations regarding disability equity and access across EdTrust’s key P-12 content areas, including blog posts, toolkits, and one-pagers that our partners can use to advocate for the unique needs of students of color with disabilities. We will also feature a session at our annual Equity Matters Bootcamp for advocates in mid-April on the state of affairs for students of color with disabilities.

We are also pleased to announce the formation of our Graduate Student Advisory Council. Comprised of five remarkable graduate students from across the country with varying focuses of disability research, this council will help inform our work over the coming year, and they will be writing individual blog posts that focus on their research interest areas.

Lastly, EdTrust not only wants to talk the talk but walk the walk. As an organization, we are committed to increasing and improving accessibility: internally, we’ve implemented new protocols, such as closed captioning for all virtual meetings; externally, we will soon be launching a new website, which will be optimized to be accessible and adhere to WCAG standards.

We look forward to the essential work ahead, and to not only learning from our partners in the community, who for decades have been champions for students and families, but also building and strengthening partnerships with allies. As the COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare, there are significant and longstanding challenges before us, and we look forward to playing a role in helping ensure a healthy, inclusive, and high-quality learning environment for all students.

Project Leads

Jiaxin Jessie Wang (she/her/她) is a Race, Disability, and Equity fellow at EdTrust. A former middle school special education teacher, Jessie’s work is driven by a desire to build the equitable public education system that students deserve. She is a current doctoral student at Vanderbilt University, where her research focuses on experiences of racially minoritized students and families in special education.

Blair Wriston (he/him) is EdTrust’s senior manager of Government Affairs, working alongside the director of Government Affairs and other members of the Partnerships and Engagement team to develop and execute EdTrust’s equity agenda at both the federal and state level.

Meet our Graduate Student Advisory Council Members