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Let's Talk About Ableism for Disability Pride Month

Disability Pride Flag via 


Accessibility and respect should NOT be a privilege. However, in contemporary America, these fundamental rights are not guaranteed to many groups of people—including those with disabilities. As an able-bodied person, I witness ableism in popular media and in everyday life constantly; unfortunately, it is nothing compared to the actual level of oppression, disrespect, and discrimination people with disabilities actually face. In the United States, July marks the celebration of Disability Pride Month and in honor of this, I think it’s time we discussed ableism—the discrimination, through practices or beliefs, against people with physical, intellectual, or psychiatric disabilities that devalue them in favor of able-bodied or non-disabled people. 

What is Disability Pride Month and Why Do We Celebrate It? 

In 1990 former President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law consequently prohibiting discrimination against people with disabilities. July was cemented as Disability Pride Month after the city of Boston celebrated Disability Pride Day during the summer month that same year. Although Disability Pride Month is not yet recognized nationally, every year there are many celebrations throughout the nation to honor the anniversary of the important law. In 2015, New York Mayor Bill de Blaison announced July as Disability Pride Month in recognition of the 25th anniversary of the law. There are over 160 million people living with disabilities and chronic diseases in the U.S. and Disability Pride Month is a great time to celebrate and honor these people. Disability is a natural aspect of human diversity and living with a disability does not constitute discrimination; one of the best ways to combat discrimination is with pride and education which Disability Pride Month allows. 

The Disability Pride flag is a significant symbol for the disability community and was created by Ann Magill, a woman with a disability. Each element of the flag represents a different part of the community. The black field around the rainbow represents people with disabilities who have lost their lives because of their illness or something else altogether, such as negligence. The rainbow colors on the flag each represent a different element of disability or impairment. From left to right, red represents physical disabilities, yellow represents cognitive and intellectual disabilities, white represents invisible and undiagnosed disabilities, blue represents mental illness, and green represents sensory perception disabilities. 

So Let’s Talk About the Big A-Word: Ableism 

Due to the skewered beliefs that many individuals hold towards people with disabilities and what that may or may not mean, ableism is intertwined in modern culture.  Many modern systems were not created concerned with the needs of people with disabilities, therefore, leading to inherent ableism. Ableism is deeply rooted in the non-disabled ideology that disabled people should be ‘fixed’ and adheres people’s identities to their disability— this enables harmful stereotypes, misconceptions, and generalizations of people with disabilities. One individual, Leah Smith, describes the questions that she and other people with disabilities receive from able-bodied individuals including “What type of medical complications have you had? How many surgeries have you had?” In response she states

“While I’m proud of every surgery and scar I had/have, I also don’t believe my medical record is all there is to who I am. In an effort to shine a light on this form of ableism, I have recently started returning the question to these unsuspecting seekers of information by asking them for the details of their medical history, and find that they are a bit confused and dumbfounded by what to say in return.” 

This is a common occurrence for people with disabilities and personally, I find it sickening. Not only is it ableist, but why would any individual think it is acceptable to ask someone else about their medical history? Additionally, Smith discusses how ableism occurs in the common treatment of people with disabilities as helpless and the language used to describe them. These are only some of the ways ableism can appear but there are many other instances such as

  • Noncompliance with disability rights laws like the ADA
  • Segregating students with disabilities 
  • The use of restraint or seclusion as a means of controlling students with disabilities
  • Segregating adults and children with disabilities in institutions
  • Buildings without braille on signs, elevator buttons, etc.
  • Building inaccessible websites
  • Using disability as a punchline, or mocking people with disabilities
  • Refusing to provide reasonable accommodations
  • The eugenics movement of the early 1900s
  • The mass murder of disabled people in Nazi Germany

There are also many micro-aggressions and everyday acts of ableism that one may not realize they even perform. Some of these include:

  • Choosing inaccessible venues or establishments for meetings that exclude participants
  • Using someone’s mobile device as a hand or foot rest, promoting disability as either inspirational or tragic in popular media, or, on the other hand
  • Portraying them with negative traits as a result of their disability or as the butt of the joke, making video content without audio description or closed captions
  • Wearing scented products in a scent-free environment

How You Can Help

In an effort to decrease ableism and be inclusionary to people with disabilities, there are many actions that everyone and especially abled-bodied individuals can take. Some of the most basic steps are believing people when they disclose they have a disability, not asking invasive questions, not speaking on behalf of someone with a disability unless asked, altering the language you use concerning people with disabilities, incorporating accessibility into event planning, and expanding your knowledge concerning people with disabilities. Disability is not something to be pitied and it is just as common, usual, and normal as any other aspect of being a human. Take this month to learn more about the community and how to be a good ally, honor the community, and possibly donate to aid people with disabilities if you can! 

You can find ways to donate here and other ways to celebrate Disability Pride Month here!

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Featured Image via Josh Appel


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