July 26, 2023

Disability Pride: Our Perspectives

Celebrating Disability Pride graphic created by U-M CDHW. Overlaid on the Disability Pride flag is the U-M CDHW logo, text that says "Celebrating Disability Pride" and an illustration depicting various types of disabilities. By Rebecca Parten, LMSW (U-M Center for Disability Health and Wellness) and Tameka Citchen-Spruce (Michigan Disability Rights Coalition)

History of Disability Pride and the Disability Rights Movement

Did you know people with disabilities are the largest minority group in this country? But little is known about a month that is dedicated to celebrating disabled people's lives, culture, and contributions to society. To remediate this issue, many activists and nonprofits have proudly waved the disability pride flag and changed their logos on their social media pages to include it. In 2019, Ann Magill, a writer with cerebral palsy, created an initial design for the flag. She then updated it in 2021 due to concerns that individuals with disabilities raised in terms of triggering things like seizures or migraines. The updated design’s colors are more muted, and the color stripes are now a straight band of colors stretching diagonally from the top-left to bottom-right corner. Each of the colors used within the flag represents something different, such as various types of disabilities. Disability Pride Month began in 2015, although Disability Pride Day has been celebrated ever since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law in 1990.  Ever since then, cities across the country have celebrated with disability pride parades.  Now if you never heard of Disability Pride Month, you may ask, what is disability pride? Disability pride has been described as “accepting and honoring each person’s uniqueness and seeing it as a natural and beautiful part of human diversity.”

Like other protected classes, it took a couple of centuries to make celebrating differences like disabilities a reality. During the 19th century, there were Ugly Laws and asylums. During the 20th century, there were state-run institutions. In the Buck vs Bell[ Supreme Court case that upheld the sterilization of anyone who was deemed as “unfit,” and there were people like the Black brothers with albinism who were paraded in P. T. Barnum circuses.

There was some recognition of disabilities after men returned from World War I and World War II. However, the advancements didn’t speed up until the 1960s and 1970s when disability rights activists like Judy Heumann, Ed Roberts, Johnnie Lacy, Brad Lomax from the Black Panthers, and hundreds of others spoke out and said, “No more. We need to take charge of our lives.” That spirit ushered in the passage of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and later the ADA in 1990. 

“What does Disability Pride mean to you?”

“I was 7 months old when the ADA was passed but growing up still experienced issues within the community in terms of physical accessibility and negative attitudes or perceptions from others. Despite these experiences, the way I have viewed my disability has been generally positive. This has a lot to do with the way I was raised. My family, especially my mom, focused on the things that I could do instead of what I couldn’t do. When we experienced rude comments or attitudes while in the community, she typically chose to use the experience to educate others instead of becoming angry. This absolutely encouraged my interest in advocacy and fostered a positive self-image in terms of my identity as a person with a disability. This is what Disability Pride is all about for me: accepting and being proud of who I am.”

—Rebecca Parten, LMSW, U-M Center for Disability Health and Wellness

“I was a 5 year old girl with a spinal cord injury when the ADA was passed. Even though I had civil rights protection,  I didn’t embrace the spirit of Disability Pride until I fully embraced all my identities. I am a Black disabled woman who is Christian. I am also a mother, wife, daughter, sister, filmmaker, and disability justice activist. Growing up with my multiple identities, I had to resist being put into a box. I had to create my own vision despite the lack of representation. But I learned as I got older, I shouldn’t be ashamed of my physical disability, like I’m not ashamed of my other identities.  It’s part of who I am, and I can rock it with my disability. So, Disability Pride is about fully accepting the good and bad that comes with my disability. I am accepting all of who I am and embrace who I will be.”

—Tameka Citchen-Spruce, Michigan Disability Rights Coalition

Finally, we wanted to share a few ideas for how you can celebrate Disability Pride:

  • Read books by disabled authors or those featuring characters with disability.
  • Work with disability-related organizations on their awareness/acceptance campaigns.
  • Decorate your durable medical equipment (wheelchairs, walkers, etc.) with stickers, patches, pins, etc., to express your personality and awareness of your disability.
  • Wear clothing or accessories with fun messages related to your disability, living with chronic illness, etc.

About University of Michigan Center for Disability Health and Wellness (U-M CDHW)

"The Mission of the University of Michigan Center for Disability Health and Wellness (U-M CDHW) is to develop and apply innovative research, clinical, and educational strategies to address inequities in healthcare access, quality, and outcomes experienced by individuals with physical, sensory and developmental disabilities across the lifespan."

About Michigan Disability Rights Coalition (MDRC)

U-M CDHW has had a long-standing relationship with MDRC serving as a Community Partner on many of our grants. Their "mission is to cultivate disability pride and strengthen the disability movement by recognizing disability as a natural and beautiful part of human diversity while collaborating to dismantle all forms of oppression."

Additional Resources:

Respectability Article: Have You Seen the New Disability Pride Flag?

PBS Article: Disability Pride Month and the Disability Rights Movement