By Rhea Debussy, Ph.D. (she/hers)
External Affairs Director
Celebrating Disability Pride Month and the Passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
Annually recognized in July to mark the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) on July 26, 1990, Disability Pride Month is a time to celebrate people with disabilities. It’s also a time to actively celebrate this community’s identities and cultures, while also recognizing the contributions that people with disabilities have made and continue to make to our society.
Modeled after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of ability status in several areas of the law. This includes the workplace, healthcare, housing, education, access to public spaces, and more. In short, the ADA affirms what people with disabilities already knew—disability rights are a civil rights and social justice issue.
Honoring the History of the Disability Justice Movement
Many people today are familiar with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). But it’s also important to remember the work of activists with disabilities in winning these legal rights. For instance, we must honor the legacies of those who successfully advocated for the passage of the ADA’s predecessor—the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
We must also remember that many people with disabilities have also intentionally and publicly sacrificed their dignity to combat structural ableism in our society. Most notably, we can recall the historic direct action of the Capital Crawl, where people with disabilities abandoned their mobility devices. In this landmark moment, they then crawled up the steps of the inaccessible U.S. Capital Building, chained themselves together, and protested until legislators stopped stalling the passage of the ADA.
Similarly, we must also honor the more recent activism of disability justice advocates. They continue to protest against cuts to Medicaid and against attempts to undermine the Affordable Care Act (ACA). But we must also honor the advocates and people with disabilities who are no longer with us. And vitally, we must recall that the intersections of ability status, race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexuality, and other identities continue to impact both the health and social outcomes of people with disabilities.
The Continued Work of the Disability Justice Movement and a Call to Action to Combat Ableism
Over three decades later, the legal protections of the ADA are still important. Many of us take accessibility features like elevators, ramps, handrails, and high-contrast signage for granted. But these features are common today, because of the disability justice movement. Similarly, the ADA’s regulations for website accessibility are crucially important for access to information in today’s world. With such a wide reach, the ADA will continue to impact our lives and society for years to come.
However, we must remember that the disability justice movement is still hard at work. While we celebrate another anniversary of the ADA, we must recognize this reality and the continued work of the disability justice movement.
To commemorate Disability Pride Month, we would like to remind folks about the need to fight ableism in all its forms. Here are three ways that non-disabled people can be better allies:
- Advocate for Marriage Equality for People with Disabilities: In last month’s concurrent opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization (2022), Justice Clarence Thomas remarked that SCOTUS may need to reconsider decisions from previous cases like Obergefell v. Hodges (2015). This is a reference to marriage equality for same-gender couples. In response, people and organizations are rightfully advocating to preserve this right. But marriage equality is still not a reality for many people with disabilities. Marriage often results in a loss of Medicaid and/or Social Security Disability Insurance benefits. In short, we must advocate for marriage equality for all people, including people with disabilities.
- Reject Ableism When You Encounter It: We must also fight ableism in all its forms and in all spaces. Ableism can take the obvious form of refusing services or access to people with disabilities. But it can also exist in ways that appear benevolent or ambivalent We must commit to learning about ableism and fighting it, even within ourselves. Additionally, we should remember that this requires conscious work that must continue all year long.
- Engage in the Disability Justice Movement: We must take part in the disability justice movement in thoughtful ways beyond the month of July. As noted by Audre Lorde, “there is no such thing as a single-issue struggle, because we do not live single-issue lives.” Simply put, we must remain in solidarity with the disability justice movement. And of course, we must all celebrate this movement, while recognizing that many in the LGBTQ+ community are also people with disabilities.