Monique Stamps and Judith Brown are using their personal experiences to advocate for Charlotteans with disabilities.
By Bryant Carter, Q City Metro
Among Charlotte’s diverse population, those who are disabled rarely get the attention they deserve. Monique Stamps and Judith Brown want to use their personal experiences to help change that, especially for people of color with disabilities.
At 16, Stamps was involved in a car crash in Rock Hill resulting in injuries that left her reliant on a wheelchair. Following the accident, she found it difficult growing up with a disability. Doctors warned her against having children, friends and family suggested she collect disability insurance instead of going to college, and the agency that was supposed to be a resource wasn’t very helpful.
Under section 14(c) of the U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act, companies can pay disabled workers below the federal minimum wage. When the local Vocational Rehabilitation office placed Stamps in a job sorting plastic spoons, she fought back.
“They told me I was being arrogant versus trying to get an education and live a full life,” she said. “If that made me arrogant, then so be it.”
In 2000, Stamps earned her bachelor’s degree in social work from Winthrop University. Four years later, she relocated to Charlotte to work at an independent-living facility mentoring others with disabilities. That was her first meeting with Judith Brown, who had come to the center for assistance.
Motivation to change the system
Brown lived in New York City and Baltimore before moving to Charlotte in 2010. She suffered hearing, vision and spinal cord injuries in her late 30s that prevented her from working. Brown also discovered that her two sons were autistic. Doctors misdiagnosed her family, she said, because their symptoms weren’t common in African Americans.
The two women immediately bonded as Black women with disabilities who experienced unfair treatment by social services.
One afternoon last month, as I was crossing a busy four-lane street that runs through the University of Pittsburgh campus, I looked up to see a robot blocking my path.
This wasn’t unexpected. Over the summer, several four-wheeled, knee-high robots had been roaming campus, unmarked and usually with a human handler several feet behind. Recently they’d multiplied, and now they were flying solo. They belonged to Starship Technologies, I learned, an autonomous delivery service rolling out on college campuses across America.
As a chemical engineering Ph.D. student at the University of Pittsburgh who uses a power wheelchair, I figured it wouldn’t be long before I met one of these bots in a frustrating face-off on a narrow sidewalk. What I didn’t realize was how dangerous, and dehumanizing, that scenario might be.
The robot was sitting motionless on the curb cut on the other side of Forbes Avenue. It wasn’t crossing with the rest of the pedestrians, and when I reached the curb, it didn’t move as the walk signal was ending. I found myself sitting in the street as the traffic light turned green, blocked by a non-sentient being incapable of understanding the consequences of its actions.
I managed to squeeze myself up on the sidewalk in a panic, climbing the curb outside the curb cut in fear of staying in the street any longer—a move that causes a painful jolt and could leave me stuck halfway up if I’m not careful.
In a first-person essay for PublicSource, Sarah Wood writes about a moment of levity she shared with her husband Charlie, who died from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in October 1997. Read Sarah Wood’s story here.