July is Disability Pride Month, so why does nobody know?


Maya Oclassen

Since unofficially commencing in 1990, Disability Pride Month has struggled to garner the same recognition of other movements like LGBTQ Pride.

While July is often associated with independence and freedom, it also marks the start of Disability Pride Month, a national celebration recognizing  diversity and uniqueness within the disabled community.

The term disability is purposefully broad, referring to any physical, mental, cognitive or developmental condition that interferes with or impairs an individual’s ability to engage in specific tasks or undertake day-to-day activities and interactions, according to Merriam Webster.

Over 61 million adults live with a disability in the United States, equating to 26 percent of the population. 

Unofficially commencing in July 1990, Disability Pride month began as a celebration after President George H. W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act, providing individuals with disabilities protection of their civil rights. The ADA prohibits  discrimination based on disability in employment, public transportation and public accommodations. 

Despite the celebration remaining unofficial, the observation gained public attention in 2015 after New York Mayor Bill de Blasio declared July Disability Pride Month in honor of the bill’s 25 anniversary. In the years following de Blasio’s commencement, cities all across the nation began hosting parades and festivals to recognize and celebrate the culture, experience, and contribution that individuals with disabilities provide to society. 

In the five years since Disability Pride Month began, recognition has slowly seeped in. Yet, the celebration remains underground in relation to more widespread celebrations such as Pride Month and Black History Month.

DePaul Public Policy professor Kelly Tzoumis explains that the lack of recognition for DPM stems from a deficiency in understanding the concept of disability. 

“Pride is well known; I mean the LGBTQ movement has been very successful across the world. They made tremendous strides in securing civil liberties and civil rights. Disability has not,” Tzoumis said. “So, I think the issue when you combine those two is that people are unaware that disability is a diversity issue. They view it as a medical issue.”

Since ADA passed, strides have been made for disabled individuals to access public accommodations such as curb ramps, accessible parking, closed caption and relayed service. 

Yet, the act still possesses limitations such as how easily lack of ADA compliance can slip beneath the radar. A majority of the brunt of its enforcement continuing to fall on the shoulders of disabled individuals. 

“People don’t understand disability. They do not understand it. It’s not something to be pitied, it’s not something that is only a medical issue or should only be seen as a problem,” Tzoumis said.

Since joining DePaul’s faculty, Tzoumis, alongside her student-led group Accessible Futures, has worked tirelessly to implement support structures and accessible curriculum for disabled students and faculty. 

Throughout her 18 years at DePaul, Tzoumis has created opportunities for disabled students, such as reconnecting disabled alumni within the federal government with current disabled students to aid in future employment.

Most recently, Tzoumis has aided in implementing three new courses at DePaul. Available to all undergraduates starting this fall, these courses center around disability justice, rights, and policy. She expresses the importance of these courses being integrated into the liberal studies domain one day.

“Disability is a diversity, equity and inclusion issue. Unfortunately, disability is often forgotten about. We remember race, we remember gender, we remember ethnicity, but we forgot disability. Disability is in the DEI boat, but unfortunately, I think we are in the back of the boat,” Tzoumis said. 

Euan Hagues, DePaul geography professor and Director of Public Service, explained the importance of allowing students access to understanding both disability and the shortcomings within the ADA. 

“One of the things we are seeing in popular culture right now is a growing recognition of disabilities, so I think that has definitely increased. Yet, a lot of people still think the ‘problem’ of disability was fixed under the Americans with Disabilities Act,” Hagues said.

In the nearly 33 years since the commencement of Disability Pride Month, education remains a critical pillar in promoting acceptance and understanding of disability’s role within diversity. 

Hagues expresses optimism that these courses centered on disability will increase change in perspective and perception of disabled individuals and the innovation of accessibility. 

“I have hope that this month will be recognized like other heritage months, and hopefully our courses will encourage greater recognition,” Hagues said. 

University of Miami sophomore Rebecca Knight believes the month lacks recognition due to the country’s inability to acknowledge more than one structural problem at once.

“I think it’s lesser known because Americans can only focus on a few oppressed groups at a time,” Knight said. “Right now, we are focusing on women, Black Americans and the LGBTQ+ community. I think a lot of Americans think that is enough even though it wouldn’t be hard to include disabled people in activism.” 

Despite Disability Pride Month flying under the radar locally, it’s also important to note a deficiency within the acknowledgment by influential brands, which possess the ability to yield awareness. 

For the past 19 years, Chicago has hosted its own Disability Pride parade with an emphasis on changing the way individuals think about and characterize disability and to end and evaluate the internalized shame amongst disabled individuals.

Some ways to celebrate and further emphasize the importance of this month include understanding ableism and its impact on disabled individuals, learning about the importance of using identity-first language and donating to organizations rooted in helping the fight for disability justice, such as Open Doors New York, and All Wheels Up.

While July may be coming to a close, the month represents the importance of celebrating and honoring the disabled community, the significance of disability rights and why disabled voices must be heard. 

“Disability is not an afterthought, just as it is not a dirty word, it is not a word to be embarrassed about. The population needs an understanding of disability and that nothing about us is without us,” Tzoumis said.