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Disability Inclusion Benefits Everyone (


A group of people representing a range of disabilities and various races, ethnicities, ages, and genders cross a bridge made of speech bubbles to demonstrate how continued conversation and commitment support inclusion and accessibility. Photo credit: Gracia Lam.

To read more of Javier Robles article, please click here.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We all want to live in communities where everyone has a fair and just opportunity to thrive, and disability rights advocate Javier Robles has been dismantling barriers to inclusion and accessibility. Robles, a Rutgers University professor, recently reflected on the impact of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the inequities COVID exposed, and the need for better public health data in a Q&A with Alonzo Plough, RWJF’s chief science officer and vice president, Research-Evaluation-Learning. Here Robles shares his personal story and what gives him hope for a brighter future.

Navigating Multiple Identities

As a Latino, I cherish my culture that centers faith and family. When I became a young disabled Latino at the age of 16, I leaned on this strength of family and culture to begin forging my path. While schools didn’t teach anything about the disability rights movement and I initially didn’t have disabled role models, I eventually found my people.

One person who I met shortly after my accident was Diego, an 11th grade student in a manual wheelchair who had come from Colombia after a diving accident. We lived in the same development, understood one another, and learned to navigate the world together. We even attended Rutgers University at the same time. I went on to have many mentors in the Latino community who have supported my leadership in the state of New Jersey and have been there when I've needed them.

In fact, my firsthand experience as the president of a Latino advocacy organization has also reinforced my belief that accounting for all aspects of a person’s identity is crucial to informing inclusive policies and services so everyone can access the support they need. For example, addressing mental health can be challenging within the Latino community. Many don’t understand that mental health conditions are a disability. Language barriers and cultural stigma surrounding seeking mental healthcare can lead to further isolation. Poverty makes it even harder to overcome these barriers. This is why services for people with disabilities must be responsive to how all aspects of a person’s identity and circumstances intersect.

We must also recognize that the disability agenda is the Latino agenda, the Black agenda, the LGBTQIA+ agenda, the immigration agenda. Disability does not exist in isolation and inclusive policies address all dimensions of a person’s identity, including race, income, gender, in addition to disability. People with disabilities ask that there be “nothing about us without us”; people with different types of disabilities and who come from different cultures deserve the same. I encourage groups of all identities to bring people with disabilities onto their boards, and agencies and corporations to hire people of color with disabilities of all kinds.

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