Carol Robinson grew up in the late ’40s and early ’50s in St. Louis, Missouri. “And when I was there, the blacks had their schools and the whites theirs,” said 63-year-old Robinson in an interview. “There was segregation. After my adopted dad moved, we lived in Rock Island, Illinois, and then Minneapolis in 1957, where the kids didn’t really bother me much. They didn’t call me any names other than the ‘n’ word.”
Robinson had an intellectual disability, and was an African-American.
“I’m a slow learner and was in special classes until 1964,” she said. “Junior and senior high was nice because there were only seven in our special class. If I was in a regular class, I couldn’t have gotten through. The special class was one-on-one sometimes.”
In the mid-’60s, she began living in a group home with about 100 other residents. “When I was there, the staff made the decision on when I could eat and when I could sleep,” she said. “They had total control. There were a lot of rules and regulations I didn’t like. I was 21 and other 21 year-olds were doing what they wanted. But I couldn’t. In 1982, I broke away from (the institution) and moved to my own apartment. I decided I wanted to be on my own, where no one could tell me what I could and couldn’t do. It was my decision. I speak up for myself.”
In 1985, Robinson married, and at first things looked rosy. Then she became the victim of spousal abuse. Her husband was white, she was black, and his parents didn’t approve.
“It was verbal and physical abuse,” she said, “but the verbal hurt most. Physical abuse you can get over, but the verbal cuts at your heart. We divorced in 1990.”
Today, Robinson works for a supported employment provider and is part of 140,000-member ARC, which claims to be the nation’s largest community-based organization of and for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She is also the Midwest representative for Self Advocates Becoming Empowered, a national organization seeking equal rights for people with disabilities.
“We are people,” she stressed. “And we are just as good as you. All of us are equal; not just some, but all. Respect us and we’ll respect you. Listen to our voice and to what we are saying.”