By: Jae Stafford, SFU Student
Disability Pride Month is recognized in July in the United States. It began in 1990 with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) on July 26, which sparked the first disability pride celebrations in Boston in July 1990 and 1991. It is a tradition that was revived in 2004 and continues today. While Canada does not share the ADA, we should acknowledge a month for the disabled community. Disability Pride Month is celebrated by some Canadian groups, but it is not yet formally recognized nationally.
The month encourages more mainstream conversations about disability and offers information on allyship. It is an opportunity to amplify authentic stories from people with different kinds of disabilities and encourage allies to continue taking action to eradicate ableism. More than a billion people have disabilities, and we should never be ashamed of them. It is a movement the entire world needs, and it’s time Canada recognizes that.
Not everyone may take pride in their disabilities or identify as disabled, and some people do. Regardless, lived experiences should be respected. To discount the idea of disability pride altogether is erasure. Ignoring our disabilities ignores our access needs and, for many of us, a part of our identity that connects us with an entire community of people. Connecting with people who have shared life experiences, especially when we so often have to self-advocate for change, can be life-saving.
The movement rejects the notion that there is something wrong with us and that we are less worthy of dignity than non-disabled people. We should not be brushed aside when we reject the shame put on us for simply existing. Disability pride is associated with well-being and higher self-esteem. In some cases, it has also been associated with lower rates of anxiety and depression. People with a positive disability identity have also reported higher satisfaction in their lives. Expressing disability pride openly can be a healthy way of fighting ableist views of disability.
Disability pride is often recognized by Sarah Triano’s definition, but that definition is not entirely beneficial to the disability community. It embraces the idea that people should not be ashamed of their disabilities, but implies that a lack of pride is what causes ableism. It takes the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. out of context to say a lack of pride is our greatest barrier in an ableist society. Though disability pride may have benefits, toxic positivity will not eradicate oppression of any form.
Movements for the disabled community often recognize the social model of disability, which can be a welcome break from only being pathologized in the medical model. Rather than focusing only on what should be “fixed” or “cured” for us to fit in, we should be seen as people who can thrive and live fulfilling lives — not just as patients or inspiration porn.
Pride cannot exist as a co-opted movement and cannot be compared to the oppression faced by other marginalized groups. Disability is an intersectional experience, and it cannot be compared to the Black civil rights movement like Triano’s definition does, or likened to LGBTQIA2S+ pride like it may be compared in other definitions. It also cannot be stated that having pride in disability is the way to freedom and equity.
Ableism is not our fault and not a burden we can love our way out of; it is a result of systemic oppression which requires tangible change to create an equitable society free of institutional barriers.
Celebrating disability pride deserves a separate occasion from Disability Employment Month in October and the array of awareness days throughout the year. It goes beyond the work to spread awareness of our disabilities and must also recognize that the ableism that kills us is a result of external barriers, not of how we identify ourselves. There is a wide range of disabled experiences, and we are in no way a monolith, but we all deserve basic respect and equity.