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July is Disability Pride Month in the United States. This year’s Disability Pride Month also marks the 32nd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which was the culmination of decades of struggle by disability rights advocates.

The ADA lays out provisions for increased accessibility to physical infrastructure, and more recently, has also been interpreted to include digital accessibility.

How did Disability Pride Month start? We’ll give you a short history of the celebration and share how people with disabilities display their diversity around the world.

People with disabilities are the largest minority in the United States

There are over 1 billion people with disabilities worldwide – approximately 15% of the world’s population – . They are also the largest minority group in the United States, making up 26% of the country.

People with disabilities are also the most diverse minority, with representatives from all age groups, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, religions, and income brackets.

However, until fairly recently, there were few nationwide observances to celebrate the diversity of disabled people’s experiences and struggles. This would all change with the campaign for the passage of the ADA, including the Capitol Crawl and other acts of protest.

The signing of the ADA provided a rallying point for people with disabilities and their desire for full inclusion in society.

Disability Pride is part of a larger movement

The histories of the disability rights movement and the civil rights movement are closely intertwined. For centuries, people with disabilities had struggled with social stigma and biases.

The Disability Pride movement has its roots in social justice and is built on the social model of disability, which describes disability as a set of restrictions defined by society, especially one that is unwilling to accommodate people with impairments.

Disability Pride is also intersectional; that is, it recognizes that the way societies treat disabled individuals also reflects how it treats other marginalized sectors, including women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ community, and thus pushes for an integrated approach that ensures full access to social services for everyone.

Disability Pride has its own flag

Just like the LGBTQ pride movement, Disability Pride has its own flag. The original flag, designed by Ann Magill, featured a brightly colored lightning bolt on a black background.

However, after receiving feedback that the color combination can negatively impact people with epilepsy, Magill came up with a redesigned flag. The new flag uses muted colors that stand for different facets of disabled peoples’ lives:

  • Charcoal gray background: In memory of the victims of ableist abuse and violence, including children or those killed because of their perceived uselessness to society.
  • Diagonal band: Cutting across the barriers that keep the disabled from full participation in society.
  • Red strip: Physical disabilities (chronic pain/fatigue, mobility impairment, loss of limbs).
  • Gold stripe: Neurodivergence (autism, ADHD, dyslexia).
  • White stripe: Undiagnosed and invisible disabilities.
  • Blue stripe: Psychiatric disabilities (depression, PTSD, anxiety, etc).
  • Green stripe: Sensory disabilities (hearing loss, visual impairments, etc).

The Disability Pride flag is now available in the public domain, and is seen in Disability Pride parades around the world

Yes, many cities have Disability Pride parades

Like other minority groups that hold Pride parades, people with disabilities celebrate their diversity and uniqueness by taking to the streets. The first Disability Pride Parade was held in Boston on October 6, 1990.

Over 400 people marched, wheeled, or drove themselves from Boston City Hall to Boston Common to show people that disability is part of the human experience.

While the first Disability Pride Parade was a success, it took a while before disabled communities in other cities had their own parades. Chicago has the longest-running series of Disability Pride Parades, starting in 2004. Other major US cities, including Philadelphia, New York, Los Angeles, and Buffalo, have organized at least two Disability Pride Parades since 2012. The movement has also spread across the Atlantic as Brighton, England had its first event in 2017.

While COVID-19 has forced organizers to halt planning for parades in 2020 and 2021, they are now back and are bigger than ever. The Chicago Disability Pride Parade is expected to draw thousands of participants, as are other similar events across the country.

Disability Pride Month is indeed a sign that people with disabilities are more than their impairments; they are active, productive members of society who are working hard to take down all the barriers that stand in the way of full inclusion.