Celebrating Disability Pride Month and the ADA
Did you know that about one in four people have a disability in the United States? July is Disability Pride month. In addition to marking the 33rd anniversary of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), the month is a chance to celebrate people with disabilities, recognize their contributions and struggles, and acknowledge their diversity.
Why is the ADA important?
Before the ADA was passed, it was legal to discriminate based on disability. So, a restaurant could refuse to serve an individual with a hearing aid. An employer could fire a pregnant person because of their condition. Restrooms didn’t have to be accessible, neither did public transportation. People with disabilities often resorted to wearing diapers or discarding wheelchairs in order to use public spaces and transportation. Homosexuality was considered a disability.
In 1990, the ADA bill was before Congress waiting for a vote. On March 13, over 1000 people marched to the U.S. Capitol demanding that the bill be passed. About 60 individuals cast aside their mobility aids, including wheelchairs, and began climbing up the capitol stairs to show how inaccessible even the halls of government were for those with disabilities; the youngest protestor was only eight years old. President George W. Bush signed the ADA bill into law on July 26, 1990.
The ADA defines who a person with a disability is and protects them from discrimination. Because the ADA is a law, not a program, a person does not need to apply to have the protections. According to the US Justice Department, a person with a disability is anyone who:
- has an impairment (physical or mental) which significantly limits major life activities,
- has a history of such an impairment (like cancer in remission), or
- is perceived by others as having an impairment (for example, someone with scars from a severe burn).
How can you honor Disability Pride Month?
Here are three actions you can start today to join in the celebration.
- Learn about the history of disability rights and the accomplishments of individuals with disabilities. Explore this article on the evolution of disability in film or dig into a good book . And, check out this list of famous high achievers with a disability to discover people to research.
- Use preferred language. Some individuals may desire a person-first approach when discussing disabilities which means putting the individual before the disability; this approach is encouraged in many settings and an example is “John is student with dyslexia.” Others may want identity-first language or using the disability as an adjective, like “John is a Deaf man at work.” This language is usually preferred by neurodiverse self-advocates and members of the Deaf community. Always ask about preferences.
- Remember people with disabilities are normal, everyday individuals and should be treated as such. Comedian and journalist Stella Young’s funny and excellent TED talk explains that just because she goes about in a wheelchair doesn’t automatically turn her into a noble inspiration to all humanity.
Disability Pride Month is a reminder to rethink our assumptions and engage with the reality that 25% of us have a disability. Stella Young summed it up best by saying, “Disability doesn’t make you exceptional, but questioning what you think you know about it does.”