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July 01, 2024

Celebrating Disability Pride at the ABA: What Does “Disability Pride” Mean to You?

Each July, people in cities around the country gather to express their pride as disabled individuals, carrying disability pride flags and handmade signs that read, “BORN TO STAND OUT,” “RAMPS LEAD THE WAY TO BETTER BUSINESS,” and “PROTECT ACCESS FOR ALL.”

These events commemorate the anniversary of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), landmark legislation that was passed on July 26, 1990, and provided civil rights protections to people with disabilities. The first Disability Pride Day was held in Boston in 1990, and the first Disability Pride Parade was in Chicago in 2004, according to The Arc.

While this expression of disability pride is a communal affair, each disabled person’s viewpoint on disability pride is informed by their identities and experiences; the category of “disability” itself encompasses a range of diverse mental, physical, sensory, cognitive, and developmental disabilities. The American Bar Association’s Commission on Disability Rights thus contacted several lawyers and disability rights activists with the question: “What does disability pride mean to you?” We found the answers illuminating.

Some emphasized that disability pride is about living authentically and without apology, while others said disability pride makes them a strong advocate for the rule of law. Still others said that having disability pride involves recognizing that one is part of the disabled community, culture, and history.

Here's what they said:

Robert Dinerstein

Chair of the ABA Commission on Disability Rights

“Historically, the disability identity has often been stigmatized and used to exclude and isolate disabled people from fully participating in society. All too often, people with disabilities have been reviled, not accepted. To me, disability pride means that we celebrate the identity of disability in all its many forms and strive to be as inclusive as possible in our interactions with people with disabilities so that their membership in the community is no longer questioned but is honored.”

Christine Busanelli

Special Advisor to the ABA’s Commission on Disability Rights

“To me, it means not being micro analyzed for what I can and cannot do (related to my disability) and for what technology I use and do not use. It also means not being compared to someone’s cousin/uncle/mother/brother’s disability issue. It means recognizing that everyone’s disability manifests differently, and there is no way anyone can understand my life challenges as they are not in my shoes. So when I speak about my challenges, listen with respect and compassion.”

Ronza Othman

Special Advisor to the Commission on Disability Rights and Director, EEO Compliance Group, Office of Equal Opportunity and Civil Rights, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

“To me, disability pride is a philosophy that should be shared by both individuals with disabilities and society as a whole: that it is respectable to have a disability, and with the right training and attitude, those of us with disabilities can and do contribute meaningfully in society and in the profession on equal terms with our non-disabled colleagues.  I’m proud of who I am, which includes an intersectionality of characteristics, one of which is my disability, and I have the right to exist and participate in all aspects of life, including the legal system.  In fact, it is my disability that makes me a stronger advocate for the law and democracy.”

Robyn Michelle Powell, PhD, JD

Assistant Professor, Stetson University College of Law, and former Commissioner

“Disability pride is about fully embracing and celebrating my authentic self as a disabled person. It means rejecting the notion that my disability is something negative or shameful that needs to be overcome or hidden away. Instead, disability pride allows me to take ownership of my disability with a positive, affirmative mindset.

For me, having disability pride means being unafraid and unapologetic in talking openly about my disability and my experiences as a disabled person. It's not trying to downplay or minimize my disability to make others feel comfortable. Disability pride gives me the freedom to be my full, true self without apology.

It also means surrounding myself with a community of fellow disabled people where we can share our stories, find strength, and create a culture centered on our perspectives and needs.

Disability pride pushes me to advocate fiercely for accessibility, inclusion, and equal rights for the disability community in all areas of life. It drives me to challenge ableism—the systemic discrimination and dehumanization of disabled people that is so deeply ingrained in society. Having pride allows me to reframe disability through a social and cultural lens rather than viewing it as a personal medical issue.

Most importantly, disability pride instills within me a deep sense of self-worth, empowerment, and dignity. It celebrates my disability as a vital part of my identity and human experience, not as a deficit or source of shame. Disability pride gives me the courage and conviction to proudly claim my space in the world exactly as I am.”

Ariana Aboulafia

Policy Counsel for Disability Rights in Technology Policy at the Center for Democracy and Technology

“Disability pride, to me, means recognizing that disability is more than a diagnosis—that being disabled means being part of a community, and a culture, and a history. There is still stigma surrounding disability, but one of the most important aspects of disability pride for me is an understanding that much of the hardship that we can experience in connection with our disability comes from existing in a world that is inaccessible rather than from disability itself. I am proud to be disabled, and to count myself as part of a community of resilient advocates for disability rights and justice.”

Haben Girma

Disability rights advocate and the first deafblind graduate of Harvard Law School

“Organizations pay for lights in offices, and sighted people can ask for a broken lightbulb to be replaced without facing stigma. The difference between accommodations for sighted people and accommodations for blind people is ableism. Disability Pride embraces a culture where we can all receive the supports we need to share our talents with the world.”

Eve Hill

Partner at Brown Goldstein & Levy

“For me, disability pride stands for people with disabilities leaving institutions, low expectations, and shame behind and claiming their disability identities and their rights to live fully and authentically in the world. People with disabilities being everywhere, in every role, is the greatest impact of the disability rights movement and the disability rights laws I work to enforce.”

What does disability pride mean to you? Let us know on Twitter (@ABADisability) and LinkedIn, in the American Bar Association – Commission on Disability Rights group.

Sean Gold

Advocate, author, speaker, podcast host

“Disabled pride month is one of the most forgotten and ignored celebratory months in the U.S. With everything going on in the country, we celebrate our differences and bring awareness to historical figures like Judy Heumann and Brad Lomax who’ve paved the way for our rights in this country. I am so glad to be a part of this incredible community as we remember who came before us while continuing to work towards more equitable access for disabled and chronically ill people.”

Marisa Hamamoto

Founder, Infinite Flow Dance

"Disability is a natural part of human existence. For many of us, disability is a critical part of our identity, and our disabilities have shaped who we are. Disability inclusion benefits all of us. Some of the most revolutionary innovations were first designed for disability: typewriter, email, sliding doors, touch screen, etc. I've lived in this duality where I know deep down that dance is a universal language that belongs to everyone. Yet, society has made it seem like dance is accessible to a select few, excluding disabled people. I am a disabled artist and founder of Infinite Flow Dance, a dance company that employs disabled and nondisabled dancers with diverse, intersectional identities with a mission to advance disability inclusion, one dance at a time. I have found through creating our work that disability inclusion is beautiful, reminding me that it's ok to be proud of being disabled."

Tiffany Yu

Author of the forthcoming book, "The Anti-Ableist Manifesto"

"Disability pride to me is about asserting my value and worth and loving myself, in a world that tells me that I should feel shame in my disabled body. It is a celebration of embracing our identities fully and reclaiming every part of my story, including the challenges and triumphs. Being disabled is a source of joy, strength, and pride."

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