Updated: Jul 27
(Content warning: discussion of ableism, very brief mentions of abuse, negligence, suicide, eugenics, and bullying).
July marks the month-long international celebration of Disability Pride. It is a time to celebrate the brilliance of disabled people, to amplify our voices, and to raise awareness of issues that affect us. It is also a time to collectively mourn those of our community who we’ve lost to abuse, negligence, hate crimes, suicide, and eugenics.
While it is not as well known, Disability Pride Month is comparable to June’s LGBTQIA+ Pride Month and October’s Black History Month (UK) in that it is a time to bring focus to a specific marginalised group.
To understand Disability Pride, let’s first start by defining what we mean by disability…
What is disability?
According to the Social Model of Disability, disability is a person’s impairment (relating to mobility, psychiatric needs, sight, hearing, neurodivergence, balance, manual dexterity, continence, communication, memory, ability to recognise danger, and more) combined with the barriers created by and existing in our society (such as ableist beliefs, no ramps, no captions/subtitles, no alt text, etc).
‘Disabled people’ is a nebulous social category, representing 16% of the world’s population. It includes people of every age, nationality, race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexuality, religion, and class. People can be born with their disabilities (congenital) or acquire them later in life through age (senility), accident, or illnesses.
Disability Pride’s origins
The first Disability Pride event happened in Boston, United States, in 1990, the same year the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law, prohibiting systemic discrimination against disabled people in employment, transportation, government programs and services, and other areas of life. ADA was the culmination of decades of persistent campaigning by disability activists.
On the 12th of March 1990, over sixty activists (including eight-year-old Jennifer Keelan-Chaffins) left their mobility aids at the bottom of the 83 stone steps of the Capitol Building, Washington, and crawled up them. This symbolic act would become known as the Capitol Crawl, also known as the Crip Crawl, and dramatically presented the realities faced by disabled people to lawmakers in a way they could no longer ignore.
It’s important to note that disabled people have been organising and fighting for equity all over the world for over a hundred years. We continue that rich tradition to this day. It wasn’t a new phenomenon, but ADA was the world's first comprehensive civil rights law for people with disabilities. Many countries have since followed suit with similar legislation.
In more recent times, social media has galvanised the global disability community, enabling those who struggle to attend in-person events due to access barriers, distance, and health challenges, to connect with other disabled people. In addition, social media has allowed for the empowering language and concepts of activism, academia, and legal frameworks to become more accessible to more people.
Why do we need a Pride Month for disability?
In 2023, disabled people still cannot access many of the buildings, goods, and services that non-disabled people take for granted. Disabled people in the UK, and around the world, experience significant economic, political, and social marginalisation.
The comments sections of any disabled celebrity or influencer’s posts show that to exist in a disabled body or mind unapologetically is to offend people who consider our existence at best, uncomfortable, at worst, undeserved. We are often reminded that disabled bodies are deemed by many to be unsightly, seen as medicalised vessels to be poked and prodded, as recipients of washing and clothing by carers -- certainly not bodies to love and be loved, exude confidence, learn, experience pleasure, create life, raise families, party, work, or travel.
Strangers touch our mobility aids without consent and expect us to answer invasive questions about our medical history or sex life before even saying ‘hello.’ Disabled air travelers are told they are ‘entitled’ to expect access to toilets like their non-disabled peers, and that they simply should not be traveling as a disabled person. Inter-abled couples are subject to comments from strangers who cannot comprehend the non-disabled partner is not a martyr or hero simply for being with a disabled partner, whom they assume is a burden. Many disabled people just going about their business, are accused of faking their disability when it doesn’t look exactly how others expect, based on inaccurate, binary perceptions of disability, often fueled by poor media representation. These are just a few examples of the many ways disabled people experience ableism.
Non-disabled is -- and always has been -- the default. But disability has existed as long as humans have existed. Disease and disorders, ageing, accidents, and war have always been a part of the human experience. Most people will become disabled in their lifetime.
To simply exist as a disabled person is a political act. Equity is still a long way away, yet despite all we face as disabled people, we persist. We push to have our humanity recognised, and to take our rightful place at the table. Why should we graciously accept scraps when we are worthy of a banquet?
For me, the collective tenacity and courage of our community is an immense source of pride. Not every disabled person will feel pride at their disability status and that’s okay. Even those among us who feel emboldened by our identity are not immune to internalised ableism.
It is only fitting that we end this blog with a quote from Judith “Judy” Heumann, ‘mother of the American Disability Rights Movement’, who passed away earlier this year, ‘This law (ADA) not only can help disabled individuals learn about our rights, but I think also can really foster a sense of dignity and pride within disabled individuals to recognize that we are not the problem, we are not the ones that need to change… It is the society around us.’
Happy Disability Pride Month 2023 to all our Members, the wider disability community, and our allies. Keep being your awesome selves!
- Arianne Brown
'Disability and Health fact-sheet' WHO - https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/disability-and-health
'The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)' US government website - https://www.ada.gov/
25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act' US National Archives - https://www.archives.gov/calendar/ada25
'Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution' on Youtube - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OFS8SpwioZ4
'Capitol Crawl to Access For All' Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health blog - https://dmh.lacounty.gov/blog/2022/03/capitol-crawl-to-access-for-all/
Historic England's 'A Brief History Of Disabled People’s Self-Organisation' - https://historicengland.org.uk/content/docs/research/brief-history-disabled-peoples-self-organisation-pdf/
'An 8-Year-Old Crawled Up the U.S. Capitol Steps to Help Pass the Americans with Disabilities Act' - https://www.amightygirl.com/blog?p=30987
'Disability Pride Month; A Quick Guide' - https://userway.org/blog/disability-pride-month-a-quick-guide/