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5 Questions to Think about This #DisabilityPrideMonth

July 20, 2021
Source: Forbes

Although it’s not yet as widely observed and understood as other month-long observances, like Black History Month in February and LGBTQ Pride Month in June, Disability Pride Month is worth a closer look.

Is Disability Pride Month shaping up to be an annual time for the disability community to celebrate its visibility and accomplishments? Will it be a reliable yearly reminder for non-disabled people and institutions to take the disability community and disabled people seriously?

Or, is Disability Pride Month a faltering attempt to join the ranks of other marginalized groups who may sometimes appear to get more recognition? And who is Disability Pride Month supposed to be for? What is its purpose? Can it revolutionize how disabled people view ourselves and our place in our communities? Or will it become just another item on corporate Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion professionals’ calendars, prompting vaguely supportive tweets and boilerplate primers on disability etiquette, but little in the way of deep self-examination?

At the very least, it seems like more disabled people themselves are thinking and speaking out about Disability Pride Month, both as a series of actual events and as a specific idea. As always among people with disabilities, feelings and opinions vary: [Note: The original Forbes article includes screen shots and links to social media posts about Disability Pride Month.]

Here are five questions that may help clarify what Disability Pride Month is and what it may have the potential to become:

1. What is Disability Pride Month and when did it start?

At its most basic, Disability Pride Month is a month set aside -- mostly unofficially but with some local proclamations –– to focus attention on the disability community and celebrate the pride disabled people have as people with disabilities.

Activities include parades in a few cities, smaller community celebrations, artistic and educational events, and articles using Disability Pride Month as a prompt to discuss a wide range of disability issues and experiences.

There is no single point of organization or definition, or clear mission statement for Disability Pride Month. However, the overall purpose, broadly speaking, is to portray the disability community in a positive light, and create space for more people with disabilities to explore our own lives as disabled people in positive and public ways.

Disability Pride Month observances at their best and most focused can be a counterweight to the tendency of disabled people to hide, deemphasize, or downplay our conditions. Instead, we are encouraged to embrace our disabilities, both physically and emotionally, as integral parts of who we are. This self-acceptance and deliberate rejection of shame and internalized ableism may be the most concrete goal of Disability Pride Month.

The first Disability Pride Day was held in Boston in 1990, the same year the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed. New York City observed the first official Disability Pride Month in July 2015, the ADA’s twenty-fifth anniversary. In between and after, events have been held in various cities and towns across the U.S., though interest in establishing Disability Pride Month in more formal ways continues to vary from year to year.

A July 2, 2021 USA Today article provides some more details, along with more perspectives from disabled activists and community leaders. The National Council on Independent Living also offers a Disability Pride Toolkit and Resource Guide, which explains some of the concepts and philosophies behind the idea of disability pride.

2. What are disabled people who celebrate Disability Pride Month “proud” about?

The answer is obvious to some, but elusive and confounding to others.

Some may interpret “disability pride” to mean a disabled person’s pride in specific, individual accomplishments and successes. Others may also cite characteristics often praised in people with disabilities –– like perseverance, adaptability, and optimism –– even though these qualities are themselves often little more than positive stereotypes.

But for people with disabilities, “disability pride” feels more like a declaration of unconditional pride in being disabled, embracing it, and being part of a disability community. We are proud because of who we are, and that pride doesn’t depend on meeting anyone’s benchmarks for how “successful” or “normal” we might appear to be. For many of us, it’s also a direct encouragement to be seen and to interact fully, with our disabilities upfront and not hidden or minimized for the comfort or convenience of others or ourselves.

As disabled people, we often struggle with the idea of being “proud” to be disabled, or of our disabilities. What, exactly, is there to be proud of in simply having disabilities? And even if we have more obvious reasons to be proud of our personal accomplishments, what does that mean for others with disabilities? Disability pride is fairly easy to maintain when you have the resources you need and are otherwise feeling good, healthy, empowered, and supported. But a key part of “disability pride” is maintaining that core strength and sense of self when our disabling conditions –– along with ableism and injustice from others and the social institutions we must live in –– make our lives extra hard.

Having “disability pride” most definitely does not mean being happy with our disabilities every day, or in any way “accepting” ableism, lesser status, or loss of access and opportunity.

3. How is Disability Pride Month related to LGBTQ Pride Month in June?

Most obviously, the name and some of the activities involved seem to be modeled after LGBTQ Pride events, most notably parades and other public celebrations. Some attempts have also been intermittent attempts to come up with a Disability Pride Flag, often reminiscent of LGBTQ Pride flags and visual motifs –– with predictably mixed results so far.

Some aspects of “disability pride” and “LGBTQ pride” are also arguably parallel to each other. This is particularly true for the roughly shared goal of battling assumptions that the way we are is somehow pathological, and the emphasis on joyful visibility that emphasizes our difference, rather than hiding or obscuring it. These are efforts LGBTQ and disabled communities share, and which often overlap for [disabled] LGBTQ people.

But this connection and similarity is also a potential weakness for Disability Pride Month, because it can be viewed as copying or appropriating another movement’s traditions and practices. It’s hard to come up with genuinely original ideas for new or evolving social movements. The temptation to borrow and replicate familiar practices and branding is great, but also risky.

Plus, disabled LGBTQ people often struggle to sort out their experiences as disabled people participating first in June’s Pride Month, and then as LGBTQ+ people participating in Disability Pride Month in July. J. Logan Smilges explores these intersections and conflicts in an insightful article this month for the Disability Visibility Project.

4. How many people with disabilities know about and participate in Disability Pride Month?

There is no way to know right now.

Where there are public events it’s more likely that people with disabilities will know about Disability Pride Month, absorb the messages, and maybe adopt them. Social media is undoubtedly giving the idea a boost as well. But at the same time it’s also drawing critical and dissenting voices to the discussion, which may or may not make it easier to establish Disability Pride Month as a lasting tradition.

One issue is that a lot of people with disabilities are still unaware of or uninterested in disability culture itself. Most disabled people spend most of their time living their everyday lives. Relatively few of us have the time, resources, or inclination to explore disability identity, culture, and activism. These disabled people are far less likely to know about or buy into Disability Pride Month. And some disabled people are as perplexed by the concept of “disability pride” as many non-disabled people are.

On the other hand, this ongoing disconnect and alienation may be one of the best arguments for a thriving, ambitious, and enthusiastic Disability Pride Month tradition. For those of us who can’t or don’t really want to focus on our disabilities all year, a month of productive focus may be incredibly valuable and empowering.

5. Is Disability Pride Month a good thing that should be more widely recognized and celebrated?

Critics or skeptics of Disability Pride Month are concerned in part about it being just another day or month to focus on yet another marginalized community. Sapped of passion, controversy, and authentic [disabled] leadership, a widely recognized but utterly bland Disability Pride Month could actually hurt the cause of recognizing disabled people and our issues.

Then there are the concerns about Disability Pride Month activities being unoriginal, copycat, and appropriating other movements, rather than creating something truly unique and distinctive.

Browsing Facebook and Twitter posts by some disability activists also reveals a specific exasperation at aggressive demands for their time and expertise, without pay, prompted by Disability Pride Month. This is yet another example of the ableist implication that disabled people have some kind of obligation to be unpaid disability ambassadors and educators, for family, friends, coworkers, and neighbors –– and for major organizations and corporations as well.

And yet, the sheer size of the disabled population, the complexity and impact of our issues, and the growing richness of disability culture more than justifies something like Disability Pride Month becoming a regular part of everyone’s annual calendar of cultural celebration, awareness, and advocacy. If done carefully and thoughtfully, Disability Pride Month has the potential to draw together some of the many “awareness days” for specific diseases and conditions, while underscoring that there is a growing and evolving disability community with a positive, assertive outlook on living life with disabilities, unapologetically, and at peace with ourselves.

As with every other disability awareness activity, there appear to be at least two broad “takes” on Disability Pride Month.

If done right, Disability Pride Month can probably do a lot to introduce more disabled people to the idea that we can do more than just tolerate or endure our disabilities, or try to obscure them in hopes of going unnoticed. While it may not always break new ground for experienced disability activists, the idea of confident visibility alone is still new and transformative for millions of disabled people –– especially young disabled people and people new to the disability experience.

On the other hand, Disability Pride Month could easily become a cheap and superficial routine, run mainly by and for the benefit of non-disabled enthusiasts, plus companies looking for yet more low-cost ways to demonstrate that they are inclusive and socially responsible. If we aren’t careful, it could become too much like every other “awareness month” –– coopted and commercialized, and drained of any difficult conversations or challenges to deeper, systemic ableism beyond everyday disability etiquette.

Maybe that’s why much of the disability community itself seems to have adopted an open, but cautious “wait and see” attitude towards Disability Pride Month. The positive potential is obvious. But so are the potential pitfalls.

Link: Go to website for News Source
https://www.forbes.com/sites/andrewpulrang/2021/07/15/5-questions-to-think-about-this-disabilitypridemonth/?sh=775375661417


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