By Lindsay Turpin
July is Disability Pride Month, a time to recognize disabled individuals and honor their resilience and individuality. Rather than celebrating the afflictions they face, we celebrate the strength of individuals to rise beyond challenges and still live life to the fullest, and their intrinsic worth. It’s also a time to acknowledge the continued pervasiveness of ableism, and contemplate the changes that must be made to accommodate for various disabilities.
Disabled individuals are the most diverse minority group, spanning across race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, ability, religion, socioeconomic background, and beyond. “Disability pride” boils down to celebrating the diversity of humanity itself and the endless mutations and differences that are present among us. One in four adults in the United States has a disability - even if it’s not obvious. This is why we need to persistently challenge ableism and create more accessible options in day to day life.
The Disability Rights Movement began in the wake of the Civil Rights movements of the 1960s as people became more and more spirited about the deep inequalities present in the world based on race, ethnicity, and gender. Inspired by Martin Luther King Jr.’s voice against oppression for all people, Disability Rights activists became vocal about the ways they were not being included. One example of this energy is shown by the story of the “Gang of 19” in Colorado who threw their wheelchairs in front of city buses because public transportation was not accessible for them. This symbolic act of protest encouraged activism and change for years to come.
Three federal laws are currently in place that are meant to encourage inclusion for disabled people: Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and its amendments in 2008, and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010. The Rehabilitation Act prohibits organizations and employers from denying those with disabilities program benefits and services. The monumental ADA act, which was passed on July 26th, 1990, exactly 33 years ago, aimed to establish equal opportunity for disabled people in the workplace, public spaces (restaurants, hotels, theaters, pharmacies, stores, libraries, museums, parks, etc.), public transportation, government services, and telecommunications. Lastly, the Affordable Care Act helped to increase inclusivity in health care through improving insurance coverage, available services, and quality of care.
Of course, there is a long way to go in order to truly create an equitable society. Ableism is ingrained in the world we live in, and it takes mindfulness when designing products and public spaces in order to truly accommodate everyone. An important philosophy for product designers and engineers is the Principle of Universal Design. This refers to creating products that are usable by all people, regardless of disabilities. For example, a door that opens by use of a sensor rather than a handle, captions below video presentations, alarms that can be seen and heard, ramps, and counters that are low enough to reach from a wheelchair. These are just a few examples, many of which can be seen in our everyday lives, but there is of course a long way to go. The above designs adhere to principles of low physical effort, appropriate space within public areas, information that is perceptible through multiple senses (sight, hearing, touch), flexibility in use, and equitable use.
Ableism is systemic in the United States and throughout the world, and for many who don’t face disabilities, it’s easy to forget that these changes need to be made. This is why representation is so important in the workplace, media, government, and beyond. In the media, the representation of disabled people is only 4.2%. If one in four people are disabled, this is substantial underrepresentation. Creating accessibility everywhere can only be done if we listen to those actively dealing with disabilities, and support them while designing a more equitable society. As far as government - perverse laws still exist that set disabled individuals back. It is legal in 31 states for employers to pay disabled people less than the minimum wage for the same work. When married, disabled individuals face reductions to their social security, supplemental security, and medicaid benefits. Essentially, this discourages them from marrying at all. With more disabled government representatives, these types of legislation would be quickly knocked down.
However, some positives: after the pandemic, the employment of disabled people has increased exponentially due to remote work options, from 4.8 million in April 2020 to 7.6 million in June 2023. The ability to attend school or work virtually has been life-saving for many disabled people who face barriers in day-to-day in-person activities. Though public spaces should also be made more accessible, working, learning, and interacting with people online can be a powerful way to stay connected and engaged without as much physical effort. Remote work has become a powerful tool that is increasingly popular, but we must ensure that it remains available in schools. I noticed when I was in college post-pandemic, teachers wanted to return to “normal” by hosting classes fully in-person and not recording lectures for those who were absent. There is no reason to not provide online accommodation for all students, and it particularly helps disabled students stay on track whether they are able to attend in-person or not.
These are just a few of the issues to consider this month, along with countless others. Disability Pride Month is not nationally recognized, though it should be. Parades are held across the country in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Antonio, and other cities.
In LA County, Disability Pride Month has been declared for October. The official LA Disability Pride Parade will be on October 8th, 2023 at the East LA Civic Center.