July is Disability Pride Month

By Taryn Farley,  Disability Specialist, Office of Equity and Social Justice

July is Disability Pride Month, a growing movement to build awareness of the pride people with disabilities feel in themselves. This pride movement recognizes what people with disabilities offer to society through their history, culture, and unique experiences.

Disability Pride Flag

Disability Pride Month coincides with the celebration of the anniversary of the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, better known as the ADA. The ADA has created civil rights protections and better access for people with disabilities. Disability Pride builds upon the legacy of the ADA with the demand for visibility, acknowledgement, and acceptance from society.

Much like other Pride movements, Disability Pride began as a counterculture movement to reclaim one’s disability as a positive aspect of oneself and reverse society’s generally negative views of disability. Zack Siddeek from the Arc of King County and a new member of the King County Equity Cabinet says Disability Pride is “Self-acceptance. Accepting who you are, being OK with who you are, and celebrating our differences.” Society typically views disability under a medical model where disabilities are defects.

Kimberly Meck, the Executive Director of the Alliance of People with disAbilities explains the medical model as perpetuating an idea that “in order to have a high quality of life, defects must be cured, fixed, or eliminated”. To thwart society’s harmful perceptions, the Disability Pride movement promotes and values disability as a natural part of human diversity. Disability is something to be embraced and celebrated without erasing or “fixing”.  

One in four adults in the United States lives with a disability and King County is home to approximately 563,000 people with a disability. Disability can be something people are born with or acquire at any time in their life. At some point in their lives, most people will either have a disability or know someone who has a one. Disability spans all races, genders, ages, socioeconomic status, religions, and geographic regions. “The intersection of disability with other marginalized identities compounds experiences of discrimination and creates even greater barriers in achieving equity” says Kimberly. Intersectionality and disability are another critical aspect of Disability Pride because it is an opportunity for people to be proud of all their identities and carrying themselves, wholly, as individuals who can celebrate and love all their unique parts.  

Challenging Ableism through Pride

“Ableism is discrimination and prejudices against people with disabilities based on the idea that being non-disabled is superior. In order to combat this, pride must be because of disability and not in spite of it. We must embrace disability as part of a person’s identity and reject the concept that some groups of people are less valuable than others. Disability Pride boldly promotes acceptance and inclusion of difference and celebrates those differences,” says Kimberly.

Disability Pride combats ableism people with a disability experience on a daily basis through affirmation of their self-worth in an ableist society. Disability is more than just a medical diagnosis —  it is part of their identity. ­The Disability Pride movement emphasizes that people with disabilities are proudly living their lives in plain view in the unique way that only they can which brings power perspectives, stories, and voices.

Zack points out that “Independence shouldn’t come with the cost of pain. For Disability Pride to exist, non-disable people have to accept that it’s OK to do things in a different way.” Disability Pride is recognizing that the systems and cultural norms that we exist in don’t allow for people with disabilities to live a good and happy life, he continued, “and that needs to change.”

Disability Pride is an opportunity for everyone to look at their own biases. When a person with a disability expresses pride and self-love, how does that affect individuals and communities to examine how they think about disability and people with a disability? Perhaps this July, there is an opportunity to look at the systems and attitude that try to “fix” or “dismiss” disability and shift the thinking to something of beauty and an asset.

How to Celebrate Disability Pride as an ally

Disability Pride is an opportunity for everyone to stand up in solidarity and allyship with people with disabilities. Here are ways you can do that this July:

1. Call out ableism: Ableism exists throughout society and can take many forms including physical and attitudinal inaccessibility or condescending or abusive attitudes (micro-aggressions) towards people with a disability; it is perpetuated by systems, policies, and personal biases. Take some time to think about ableism, and where you may see it being played out in yourself and your community. Have a conversation about ableism and come up with a way that you can counteract it.

2. Educate yourself on Disability History in the US: People with disabilities have always existed, yet we have not been taught about that history in mainstream education. The Disability Civil Rights movement was fought for decades before the passing of the ADA. Seek out resources and educational materials that are created by people with lived experience and learn something new about disability history.

3. Look through an intersectional lens: As stated earlier, disability is beautifully intersectional but people with disabilities can also experience compounding oppression based on multiple marginalized identities. How can you acknowledge and honor all of a person’s identities and not just see disability?

4. Don’t be a Hero: To be an ally is not to “rescue” people with disabilities. Support the autonomy and voice of people with disabilities and look at the policies and practices in place that perpetuate discrimination.