Though not yet a nationally recognized thing, July is Disability Pride Month. Commemorating the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) on July 26, 1990, Disability Pride Month is meant to function to increase the visibility of disabled folks; to push back against ableism in the world, at large, and the ableism we’ve internalized from living in an ableist world; to be proud of who we are without that pride being attached to society’s barometer for what it considers “successful,” “normal,” or “functional.” It is a time for us to not try to hide or minimize our disabilities for the comfort of able-bodied people—which most of us end up doing most, if not all, the time.

Disability Pride Month as a springboard for visibility is incredibly important: for nearly a century in the United States, it was legally mandated that some of us not be seen in public. Though the last arrest under an “Ugly Law” occurred in the 1970s, it wasn’t until the passage of the ADA that all the “Ugly Laws” were effectively repealed. These laws and the enforcement of those laws were usually tied to panhandling or begging and so targeted poor people, disproportionately effecting the Disabled and BIPOC communities. Words and phrases like “deformity, unsightliness, and being a ‘disgusting object,’” were common among these laws. It is no surprise that disability visibility has come so late. Even when and where it was not a crime to be visibly disabled in public, the shame around disability instilled in us by an ableist society led (and continue to lead) families to hide disabled folks away or kick us out, to try to train us to be “normal,” and, sometimes, to kill us.

Despite the societal desire to ignore disability, there have been thriving disability rights movements since the 1800s, beginning with organizations by and for blind people and the Deaf community. But we are not taught disability rights history—not even recent history: I did not learn until graduate school about the 504 Sit-in that held a federal building for twenty-six days (the record for longest sit-in in a federal building to date) to get regulations signed that would make it illegal to bar disabled people from any program that received federal funding; or the Capitol Crawl—and the protest in the Capitol Rotunda the following day—pushing for the passage of the ADA. Those occurred in 1977 and 1990, respectively, and are incredibly significant civil rights demonstrations.

Disability rights have come a long way! Still, there is much further to go before disabled folks have equitable access to full participation in society. The ADA is meant to guarantee “that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to enjoy employment opportunities, purchase goods and services, and participate in state and local government programs” but there are many exceptions. There is also too much room for varying interpretation while still meeting the letter of the law. Accessibility is, almost exclusively, considered only after a complaint of inaccessibility and, even then, institutions usually only do the bare minimum instead of actively fostering an inclusive space. And the institutional and societal barriers to equitable access for disabled people go beyond physical spaces: disabled people do not have marriage equality, we are discriminated against in hiring and in the workplace, we are underrepresented in media and what representation exists is often stigma- and stereotype-laden or inspiration porn, and—goodness!—dating is just a clusterfuck.

While Disability Pride Month is a time for publicly pushing back against those barriers, it is also a means of building solidarity. The Disability community is vast and varied, not just in terms of the wide array of diagnoses but also in the ways our disabilities interact with our other identities: my experiences as a white, Queer, nonbinary person with an “invisible” disability who is neurodivergent and mentally ill are going to be wildly different from the experiences of an Indigenous, straight, cis man with a visible physical disability who is neurotypical. The Disability Pride flag—and its updated, visually safe version designed with input from the Disability community—was designed by Ann Magill to represent that solidarity. The field of the flag is black, representing rage and mourning for those we have lost to ableism and ableist violence, as well as rebellion. Five bands of color cut through that field on a diagonal: red, for physical disabilities; yellow, for cognitive and intellectual disabilities; white, for invisible and undiagnosed disabilities; blue, for mental illnesses; green, for sensory perception disabilities. The parallel bands represent solidarity across our differences and the bands being diagonal is “‘cutting across’ barriers that separate disabled people” and also symbolizes “creativity and light cutting through the darkness.”

That solidarity is one of the aspects of Disability community that I prize most. The internet has been integral to building that solidarity over the course of the last few decades. Forums, chat rooms, and—more recently—social media have given us the chance to connect to one another across diagnoses, physical barriers, and state and national borders. The internet has been a vital resource for home-bound disabled people and neurodivergent people who are considered “nonverbal” to communicate with the outside world and advocate for themselves. It has given so many of us the opportunity to see that we are not alone in a world not built for us and it’s an effective tool for organizing and for educating. Were it not for the communities that have been built online, I would not be alive today. The solidarity of the Disability community is life-saving.

Even as I continue to struggle with accepting and adapting to my diagnoses and how I have to navigate the world now, I can genuinely say I am proud this Disability Pride Month. I am proud of the Disability community. I am proud of the achievements of and advancements gained by the community. I am proud that we are continuing the push toward equity. And I am proud of each of us and our creativity in finding ways to survive, to live, to thrive in the face of an ableist world.

Happy Disability Pride Month!

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