Kathy Bates

“It’s okay to have a complicated relationship with your disability. Disability Pride can hold both struggle and celebration.” Emily Ladau

Happy Birthday, ADA!

July is Disability Pride Month which began as a way to celebrate the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by George H. W. Bush on July 26th, 1990. It is a civil rights law that protects people with disabilities from discrimination in the areas of employment, state and local governments, public accommodations, businesses, transportation, and telecommunications (messaging on television, computer, and telephone). It also applies to the United States Congress. The ADA covers all areas of public life except for churches and private clubs. The first official celebration of Disability Pride Month was held in July of 2015 which marked the 25th anniversary of the ADA. This blog post will explore the concept of Disability Pride and how life has changed since the passing of the ADA.

The definition matters.

To qualify for protection under the ADA an individual must either have a physical or mental disability that substantially limits one or more major life activities. A person either has to have a record of a disability or is regarded as having a disability. In 2008 the Americans with Disability Act Amendment Act (ADAAA) was passed. Under this law, the definition of disability was expanded to include issues with the way the body functions, e.g., sleep disorders, digestive health, and reproductive issues. The list of “Major Life Activities” was also expanded. Some disabilities don’t occur every day, such as asthma attacks. These disorders are covered under the ADAAA. In fact, as many as 50% of individuals may qualify as disabled under this act.

So, what is disability pride?

I think this is a concept that can be very difficult to wrap your head around. I’m not saying that my disability is wonderful. We have all dealt with ableism (discrimination against disabled people) when others make you feel less than human because of your disability. I have used my voice and the power of advocacy to fight against that and will continue for a long time to come. I believe that disability is a natural and even beautiful part of human diversity. You have to adapt and become more creative when the world isn’t made for you. I completely accept my disability as a fundamental part of who I am. On most days, I view it as a strength. I like the way I see the world.

I decided to ask a few of my friends what they thought about the concept of disability pride. Disability justice advocate and People First of New Hampshire president, Kelly Ehrhart commented…

“This is a difficult concept for many of us to understand. My disability is invisible, I have an intellectual disability and a severe mental illness, and I don’t let it stop me from being a valued member of the organizations I am affiliated with including People First. I am also a valued employee at my job for over 11 years at Marshall’s. I'm not ashamed of my disability.”

Fellow advocate, John Fenley, had this to say…

“This is a difficult concept. My brain injury has affected me in so many ways that I have had to approach life differently. If you think of life as a great cosmic card game, you could say that disability is like being dealt a bad hand. But I am not going to whine and throw a tantrum. I’m going to play the hand. Maybe THAT is what I am proud of. I didn’t make excuses or quit. I didn’t let my disability define me. I pushed forward and proved my worth as a member of my community.”

Samantha Lylis, an advocate for change, feels this way…

“Disability Pride is all about celebrating everyone’s strengths and talents. My talent is that I can speak Spanish.”

Did you know there is a disability pride flag?

2021 Disability pride flag with parallel diagonal stripes in five colors

The 2021 Disability Pride Flag

Flags can symbolize a community of people and their cultural beliefs, victories, and struggles. When Ann Magill, a writer with Cerebral Palsy, designed the first disability pride flag in 2019, she did her best to represent all of these elements. The brightly colored zig-zag rainbow design was replaced with a more muted image cutting through a black background in 2021 because the original design sometimes prompted symptoms in individuals with visually triggered disabilities when the design was viewed on computer or phone screens.

Magill asked for suggestions on how to improve the flag. The new version straightened the stripes and muted the colors. Each color represents a different category of disabilities. Red represents physical, gold neurodiversity, white invisible disabilities, and those not yet diagnosed, blue emotional and psychiatric disabilities, and green sensory disabilities. The faded black background represents mourning and rage for victims of ableism. Together, these colorful bands represent a light that cuts through the darkness. Ann Magill did not seek copyright of this flag design since so many people offered suggestions, she felt it represented the whole community.

From where I sit...

Everyone is perfectly imperfect, so we shouldn’t feel bad about the things that make us unique. I didn’t always feel this way, especially growing up. I still remember being carried into high school by my brothers because there was no ramp in 1977-1978. I also remember going on my honeymoon in 1992 to a restaurant on Cape Cod where there were only stairs to get in. I asked the owner where the ramp was and he replied, “We don’t need your people’s business, we are the Cape.”  In fact, I had a lot of trouble accessing many businesses during the first ten years the law was enacted.

Things are more accessible now that we are more visible. This is not only evident in everyday life but also in the media. The ADA generation, or people who grew up with the ADA, are more comfortable with their labels than I was growing up and that’s great!  This is probably why they don’t have a problem understanding disability pride. But whether you grew up with a disability before the ADA was passed or were part of the ADA generation doesn’t matter. There is much more work to be done, especially in areas such as healthcare, employment, and housing.