July is pride month in the United States for the population the World Health Organization (WHO) refers to as the “world’s largest minority,” yet most Americans remain unaware of this month’s importance. While it is not an official pride month, July is considered Disability Pride Month due to the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) on July 26, 1990. The ADA is intended to prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities. Despite ADA protections, the United States is severely lacking regarding disability rights. July is meant to raise awareness for the need for comprehensive disability rights while celebrating the contributions of the disabled community. Disability Pride Month is also an opportunity to identify and reject ableist systems and sentiments in society.
WHO estimates that around 15 percent of the world’s population have a disability, and the number of people with disabilities is constantly growing. Disabilities range from mobility impairments and visual impairments to invisible disabilities such as cognitive disabilities, neurological conditions, and psychological disorders. Long COVID-19 is also causing disability among those who are infected. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that one in four American adults have a disability that impacts major life activities. While the disabled community is large, ever expanding, and vibrant, visibility is still low among the general public.
Ableist views of the world are inherent in healthcare facilities and workplaces, impacting every aspect of life for disabled people. NBC News reports that according to the CDC, people with disabilities are more likely to have their health care needs unmet and less likely to have health care providers and routine check-ups due to high costs. The recent Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade will prevent Americans with disabilities from accessing the healthcare they need; many disabled people rely upon Medicaid, which only covers abortion in 15 states. According to NBC News, the court decision also cut off access to medications for lupus, Crohn’s disease, and cancer because the medications are abortifacients. Employers frequently resist making accommodations, such as remote work, until it benefits people without disabilities as well. Disabled people are more likely to live in poverty, especially disabled people of color. Businesses often circumvent ADA requirements through historic building exceptions or only provide surface-level accommodations to disabled patrons.
Rhetoric around disabilities is sorely lacking an understanding of disabled lives. Able-bodied people still claim they would rather be dead than disabled. Disabled people are infantilized and talked over in public debates. Able-bodied people utilize terminology such as “differently-abled” rather than disabled, ignoring the wishes of disabled people themselves. Disabled people are doubted and criticized by family members and coworkers who do not understand their lives. On the whole, disabled people are often ignored and invalidated.
Attitudes towards disabilities are problematic and harmful even in the health care sector. Many doctors doubt young people are able to experience chronic pain or dismiss invisible disabilities because they cannot be easily seen. Disabled people are judged as drug seekers when they ask for help managing pain or go to the emergency room in crisis. Health care workers do not receive sufficient training on how to compassionately treat people with chronic illnesses and disabilities. Wide-ranging changes need to be made to address ableism and systemic barriers.
Education and representations of disabilities should be improved to combat ableism. School curriculum should discuss disabilities and chronic illnesses in health education classes, and U.S. history classes should teach about the Disability Rights Movement. Sex education should discuss the needs of disabled people: despite common misconceptions, disabled people have sex too. Documentaries like Crip Camp are especially important; disabled people need more platforms to tell their stories, and able-bodied people need to listen. Disabled representation in media such as television shows and movies needs to be increased as well. Representation provides visibility and reduces stereotypes.
Alongside media representation, disabled people deserve to have their voices recognized in politics. The slogan “Nothing About Us Without Us” remains as critical as ever. Able-bodied people need to do their part to step back and listen when disabled people are speaking about their wishes. Politicians can include virtual platforms for town halls and feedback sessions to increase accessibility. During current debates around Roe v. Wade, activists need to be careful not to stray into eugenics when discussing the importance of abortion access. Voters should fight back against voter suppression bills that would make it more difficult for minorities, including people with disabilities, to vote. The government should fund more programs that assist disabled people and mitigate poverty in the community. To start, Congress could pass the Transformation to Competitive Integrated Employment Act, which would phase out subminimum wage for disabled workers.
Medical education and health care facilities should include more training on treating disabled patients. Providers should learn about the different ways disabilities can present, especially invisible disabilities. Medical professionals must be careful not to gaslight or dismiss patients with disabilities and chronic pain. Access to medications for chronic illnesses should be protected. Long-term reform of health insurance is also needed, but will be more difficult.
The COVID-19 pandemic is likely a mass-disabling event, but disability rights still have a long way to go in the United States. Even as disabled people celebrate the anniversary of the ADA, they continue to fight for respect and recognition. As more people become disabled everyday, able-bodied people must listen to and support them. Accessibility can benefit everyone. Changes need to be made to create a more accessible world and fully appreciate Disability Pride Month. As author Andrew Pulrang writes in Forbes, “Am I proud of my accomplishments despite my disabilities? No. I am done with the “in spite of” formulation. My disabilities themselves, and the ableism and inaccessibility I have encountered, have often made my accomplishments harder to achieve. But it would be wrong and superficial to suggest that my disabilities have always only been a hindrance. They are part of me, so they have also contributed to my successes, and to whatever satisfaction I have found in my life.”