It’s the end of July, which means we are coming to the end of Disability Pride Month, which is celebrated each July and coincides with the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Signed into law on July 26, 1990, the ADA was a groundbreaking piece of civil rights legislation that has made an enduring impact on millions of Americans’ lives and has inspired disability-led advocacy around the world.
As a result, Disability Pride Month is a time to celebrate the diversity of the disability community, uplift the history of activism and community care that has consistently permeated disability culture, and honor the struggles that people with disabilities have faced in the past and continue to meet in the present.
As someone who is part of a generation born after the passage of the ADA, I have never known a world without the protections offered by this groundbreaking legislation. For me personally, the fact that these protections were (and often still are) viewed as groundbreaking, is something that I’ve struggled to wrap my mind around.
However, the more I learn about disability history and culture, the more I understand why the ADA’s promise was truly revolutionary. Constructed by non-disabled individuals, our society was not built to empower people with disabilities to participate fully in their communities. As much as I wish it was difficult to imagine a world where people with disabilities did not have the supports they need to fully participate in their communities, it’s not hard for me to do so. Even with the ADA and similar protections, we still have failed to achieve a world where full participation is possible.
For example, we know that the direct support workforce crisis continues to dim the bright promise of the ADA and that people with disabilities are, at best, at risk of not being able to enjoy these fundamental rights; at worst, having these rights stripped away entirely. Simply having rights written on paper doesn’t mean much if you’re not able to enjoy access to those rights. I feel that deeply.
As someone with a non-apparent disability, ‘disability pride’ has held different meanings for me over the years. For most of my life, I’ve carried the shame and stigma of my disability, and most days, pride can be hard to come by. For instance, I’m not necessarily proud of how my disability impacts my daily emotional well-being. I’m also not proud that there are privileges I carry because of the nature of my disability. In most spaces I occupy, I can “pass” as non-disabled, so people do not usually treat me as though I have a disability. These privileges typically do not extend to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) or people with apparent disabilities—as our society still commonly treats those who have apparent disabilities differently.
I am proud of the community created by people with disabilities and their accomplices. I am proud of the work of countless disability rights advocates, their allies, Direct Support Professionals, organizational leaders, policymakers, and elected officials who continue the pursuit of advancing the rights of people with disabilities. People with disabilities add so much to our communities. I am proud to be part of an association of organizations and individuals who recognize that and work to make inclusion a reality. I am proud to be part of a vibrant, diverse community of people whose bodies and minds work differently than my own and who come together to offer care and support for one another.
We should all be proud of the work that advocates and activists did 50, 40, 30, and 20 years ago to fight for disability rights protections like the ADA, and the work that many advocates and accomplices across the country continue to do every day to ensure those rights translate into real community inclusion and participation. But rights on paper only become real when we work to ensure that these rights become people’s lived realities.
There’s so much more work to be done to ensure access to the community, to break down barriers that our communities have built up, and to challenge ableism. One action we can take today is to examine our own beliefs about disability. Here are some questions to ask ourselves:
Do I think disability is a bad thing? Do I think disability is something to be feared, or part of human diversity?
Do I truly believe this community, and disability identity itself, is something to be proud of?
Who have I learned the most about disability from? Is it from people with disabilities themselves? If not, what resources can I seek out that are created by people with disabilities?
These are just a few actions we can take individually and collectively to further ensure the promise of the ADA is upheld. It’s only by working together that we can create truly inclusive communities we can be proud of.
Alli Strong-Martin is the Communications Coordinator at ANCOR.
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