July is Disability PRIDE month. During this month we celebrate the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Disability Culture. Some people are ashamed to say they have a disability and want to disassociate from the Disability Community. We want to take a moment to recognize Disability Culture and actions of the Disability Community to encourage everyone to not just want to be a part of this amazing group, but to find PRIDE in their association with their Disability Identity.
Although uninformed people may assume that people with disabilities are weak, we are actually a powerful group who is not afraid to take action to further the rights of our community. One in four adults have a disability in the United States, totaling over 61 million Americans. People with disabilities represent nearly half a trillion dollars in disposable income – the money left after taxes and basic living necessities such as a place to live, food, and clothing. That’s a lot of voting and spending power.
It is the Disability Community which planned the longest sit-in protest in the history of the United States. The San Francisco Sit-In at the HEW federal building lasted 26 days and started with over 100 people. It was planned and executed by a group of people with disabilities, protesting that Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act should be enforced.
When some activists at the protest were invited to the capital to discuss the protest, they knew that maintaining the sit-in was critical to their negotiations and organized a group of people to man the line. This action was a pivotal civil rights action leading to significant victory for the Disability Community.
“For the first time, disability really was looked at as an issue of civil rights rather than an issue of charity and rehabilitation at best, pity at worst.” – Kitty Cone
As people with disabilities, we hear the word “no” frequently. We all know the moment when someone’s expectations change. The look on their face morphs from friendly to distant, the tone of their voice changes from direct to patronizing, and suddenly that thing we were really excited about is just out of reach due to someone else’s perception of what we can do.
It takes a lot of inner fortitude and resilience to be able to keep pushing forward when others consistently lower the bar or silence your voice, but our community has demonstrated that it will not be silenced and will not be held back by others’ perceptions of what they can and can’t do.
Whether a veteran who lost a limb in the service who goes on to become an athlete while using a prosthetic, a person with mental health disabilities who goes on to earn a PhD despite being told they aren’t meant for college, or a person who is Deaf who becomes a well-respected actor or actress; people with disabilities have a long history of ignoring the word “no” when no almost always means giving up on their dreams.
Consider Judy Heumann, sometimes referred to as the mother of the disability rights movement. Despite being told most of her life that she couldn’t do what she wanted, she became the first person with a disability to be a certified teacher in the state of New York. After that, she became integral in many civil rights actions of the disability community, including working to get the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) passed, which protected educational rights for children with disabilities.
“I wanna see a feisty group of disabled people around the world…if you don’t respect yourself and if you don’t demand what you believe in for yourself, you’re not going to get it.” – Judy Heumann
A full language was created by the Deaf community in different places all around the world. Sign language meets all the qualifying markers of spoken languages and adapts with dialects and language changes, just like spoken languages. A form of embossed characters were created by Louis Braille, an individual who was blind, to establish a system of characters which could be read by feel. Although many people no longer rely on braille due to technological advances, learning braille is still considered a critical learning process linked to literacy, understanding of written communication, and logic.
But it’s not just inventions for themselves that people with disabilities have been a part of. Did you know that many of the things we take for granted today were invented by people with disabilities?
Thomas Edison, inventor of the light bulb which led to his invention of an entire electrical system which could bring power to a full city, was deaf. He had over 1,000 patents throughout his lifetime.
Ralph Teetor, who was blind in one eye, used his engineering knowledge and education to create a device which would help to address erratic driving and fuel consumption. This device was adopted by major automobile manufacturers and became known as cruise control. Cruise control not only helps drivers to maintain speeds, but it also helps to conserve use of oil.
Other inventions used every day or precursors to today’s technology come from inventions which were started by people with disabilities or their loved ones who were looking for solutions to their daily problems. From text-to-speech, to curb cuts, to typewriters – which led to computers and tablets, to telephones, innovation is at the core of the Disability Community.
“The value of an idea lies in the using of it.” – Thomas Edison
Dedicated and Loyal
Research has shown that people with disabilities are more aspirational than their nondisabled peers and seek to prove themselves at work. Additionally, not only are people with disabilities loyal to employers who give them a fair chance, but they are more loyal to brands who commit to inclusion and accessibility of their products. When looking at groups to target for marketing and recruitment, dedication and brand loyalty are two phrases often thrown around. People with disabilities are a group that offers both.
Why are these qualities the Disability Community should be proud of?
Dedication and loyalty have served this community well when it comes to working for their civil rights, but also in again and again demonstrating that stigma and pity do not belong in the conversation about what people with disabilities can accomplish. Dedicated and loyal people are people who are self-motivated, open to new ideas and opportunities to learn and grow and have a strong work ethic which can help you to achieve success. All of these skills make people with disabilities an asset in the community and in the workplace.
“As a business leader, surrounding yourself with team members who bring this level of devotion will maximize your company’s potential.” – Entrepreneur
People with disabilities represent an untapped labor pool which is proven to have positive impacts in the workplace. Companies that hire people with disabilities are more profitable and more competitive than their peers. Additionally, disability inclusive companies realize additional benefits from adding people with disabilities to their workforce. On average, companies who are inclusive of people with disabilities have teams that are more innovative, more productive, and more cohesive.
We have the skills, we have the education, and we have the drive to make a positive impact on an employer’s bottom dollar.
“Give us the right to be fired.” – Tony Coelho
When people encourage us to distance ourselves from our Disability Identity, they are standing in the way of us connecting and engaging with people who share our lived experience. Whether this is done from a standpoint of pity or ignorance of the rich and awesome history of the Disability Community, these actions serve to subjugate people with disabilities. Yet, we don’t have to listen to the stigma and the misconceptions. We are not alone, and the Disability Community isn’t just a group we should be proud to be a part of, it is one that is ready to stand with us.
It is time to embrace our Disability Identity and our Disability PRIDE, not just in July, but always.