by Emily Sladek, SDI Canine Support Specialist
The Disability Pride flag in the shape of a Service dog. Green is for sensory disabilities. Blue represents emotional and psychiatric disabilities. White stands for non-visible and undiagnosed disabilities. Gold is for neurodiversity. Red represents physical disabilities
You maybe thinking, “Wait, I thought Pride was last month!” Nope, similar to the LGBTQ+ Pride that happens in June, in July, we celebrate Disability Pride worldwide.
Disability Pride started in 1990 with the federal passage of the Americans with Disability Act (ADA). The intent of the ADA is to ensure people with disabilities have full access to public and community life, including the right to education, employment, and civic spaces.
The intent of Disability Pride is to gather as a proud and vibrant community, promote visibility around the discrimination still faced by disabled people, and celebrate our historical and current achievements, experiences and challenges. (For more information on some of the historical achievements of the disability community, watch the Oscar-nominated movie Crip Camp, available on Netflix.)
The first Disability Pride march I attended was in New York City. Coming just a few weeks after the 50th celebration of the Stonewall riots, founding the Queer Pride marches we now hold dear, the 2019 Disability Pride march was underwhelming to say the least. While the people in the parade were enthusiastic, joyful and full of cheer, the sidewalks were bare with few spectators attending. There were no floats or grand marshals. The city was not draped in the Disability flag. For me, someone who identifies as both queer and disabled, I was concerned and saddened to see this divergence among communities.
I hold a diagnosis of mild cerebral palsy (CP). Basically, my movement capacity is similar to that of the elderly. While living in NYC, I met many other adults with CP through a hospital support group. We’d talk about how fun it’d be to meet each other in person for a game night.
I began looking for a location that could accommodate 8-10 people using a mixture of wheelchairs and walking aids. The response I most often received was an exasperated “No” followed by a request for us to rent out the whole space. I compared this to the zero number of times I’ve been asked to rent out a space when meeting up with my able-bodied friends. Eventually, I did find an accessible space, but it wasn’t centrally located or near an accessible subway stop.
However, my fledgling attempt at organizing an accessible meetup does earmark some of the difficulties disabled people have of gathering as a community in public. Despite being the largest minority population with roughly a quarter of adults in the United States experiencing a disability, we continue to face great challenges to accessing public spaces (CDC, 2023). Disability Pride month offers us a few opportunities to more visibly educate the public together about still existing barriers:
Service Dogs are part of the disability community as they help people with disabilities increase their access to and participation in public life. The Americans with Disability Act defines and protects Service Dogs. “A service animal is a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability” (ADA, 2023). Just as the ADA protects disabled people to have full access to public life, it also allows full access to disabled handlers through the accompaniment of their service dog.
As part of our July Disability Pride festivities, let us honor the accomplishments of Service Dogs and their handlers. Before the ADA, only Guide Dog users had legal protections (Access Press Staff, 2019). Today, the ADA covers many types individuals using a variety of Service Dogs. Tasks Service Dogs perform include assisting people who have sensory, physical, intellectual, mental and physiological disabilities (ADA National Network, 2023).
July is a great month to celebrate the tireless efforts our working dog teams as they support and enrich each other’s lives.
Some ways to get in on Disability Pride activities: