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How to be an Ally to the Disability Community

Happy Disability Pride Month! July is Disability Awareness Month. It also happens to be the 34th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which was signed into law on July 26, 1990 by President George H. W. Bush. The Americans with Disabilities Act defines disability as “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities”. The Americans with Disabilities Act also includes people who have a record of such an impairment, even if they do not currently have a disability. It also includes individuals who do not have a disability but are regarded as having a disability. The Americans with Disabilities Act also protects individuals who have an association with a person with a disability from discrimination. Whether you have a disability or have family member, friend, coworker, or neighbor with a disabilities, here are some way to be an ally to the disability community:


  1. Learn about the history of the Disability Rights Movement

  2. Read books written by authors with disabilities or about disability related issues, such as

  3. The Disability Rights Movement: From Charity to Confrontation by Doris Fleischer and Frieda Zarnes,

  4. Disability Visibility by Alice Wong,

  5. Demystifying Disability: What to Know, What to Say, and How to be an Ally by Emily Ladau,

  6. Being Heumann by Judith Huemann and Kristen Joiner

  7. Max Starkloff and the Fight for Disability Rights by Charles Claggett Jr. and Richard Weiss

  8. Strangers Assume My Girlfriend is My Nurse by Shane Burcaw, and

  9. Sitting Pretty: The View From My Ordinary Resilient Disabled Body by Rebekah Taussig

  10. View films that portray disability and disability rights such as Crip Camp, Imperfect,

  11. Support and learn from Disability Rights advocates such as Ed Roberts, Judy Huemann, Alice Wong, and St. Louis’ very own Max Starkloff

  12. Follow disability social media content creators including, but not limited to, Nikki Walsh, Jessi Stracham, Anna Sarol, Wheel the World, Wheel with Me Adapt Fit, The Heumann Perspective, Empower Disability, Wheelie Wanderlust, Festability STL, and Ali Stroker

  13. Use each individual’s preferred language, whether that be person-first (person with a disability) or identity-first (disabled person)

  14. Hire and promote individuals with disabilities

  15. Call out ableism and ableist languages when you see or hear it. For example, words like crippled, special needs, differently-abled, the r-word, spazz, crazy, lame, and handicapped are incredibly offensive to the disability community. Challenge yourself and others to use more inclusive wording, like individuals with disabilities, wheelchair-user, disability affecting mobility, or intellectual disability instead.

  16. Ensure your content is accessible. For example, include descriptions on all images, use high contrast colors, utilize closed captioning, utilize a font size greater than 12 point, use easy to read fonts such as Arial or Helvetica, and provide transcripts for content such as videos or podcasts

  17. Ensure your event is accessible. For example, ensure the venue where the event is being held has an accessible parking lot with accessible parking spaces, an accessible entrance, including curb cuts, an entrance free of steps or with an alternative entrance that includes a ramp if steps are present, bathrooms with accessible stalls or an alternative such as an all-gender bathroom, accessible seating free of steps, close to sign-language interpreters, if needed, with a companion seat nearby, ensure that nutrition facts and ingredients are available for all food and drinks provided and allow the opportunity for attendees to request alternatives.

  18. Educate yourself on issues affecting the Disability Community including current and proposed legislation, voting rights and access, healthcare, employment, transportation

  19. Validate each individuals’ lived experiences with disabilities and recognize that each person’s experiences with disability can and will be different

  20. Build relationships with individuals with disabilities[1] 

  21. Include individuals with disabilities in conversations around and about disability and accessibility - “nothing about us without us!’ Individuals with disabilities are the experts on disability and we should follow their lead





The first version of the Disability Flag, which was created in 2019 by writer Ann Magill, who has Cerebral Palsy, was similar to the current design you see here, which was also created by Ann Magill, except for the stripes being a zig-zag design instead of straight. The zig-zag design was meant to depict how people with disabilities have to maneuver all the barriers in their way. Many disability rights advocates pointed out that the zig-zag design may trigger symptoms of visually triggered disabilities, such as seizures and migraines. The colors from the original design were also rearranged and muted to be inclusive to those who have red-green color blindness. Red represents people with physical disabilities. Gold represents neurodiversity. White represents invisible disabilities and disabilities that have not been diagnosed yet. Blue represents emotional and psychiatric disabilities, including mental illness, anxiety, and depression. Green represents sensory disabilities, including deafness, blindness, lack of smell, lack of taste, audio processing disorder, and all other sensory disabilities. The faded black background represents mourning and rage for victims of ableist violence and abuse. The diagonal shape of the colored bands represents individuals with disabilities crossing the walls and barriers that separate them from society, also representing light and creativity cutting through the darkness.

 

The disability community is the largest minority group in the United States, with around 40 million members. The disability community is the only minority group that you can join at any given moment. It is important to learn more about the Disability Rights Movement and resources in the St. Louis area, consider attending Festability: A Celebration of Disabilities at the Missouri History Museum. The 2024 Festability: A Celebration of Disabilities will be held on October 5th, 2024. For more information go to: https://www.festability.org/.


An excerpt from President George H. W. Bush’s statement at the the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act:

“And now I sign legislation which takes a sledgehammer to another wall, one which has for too many generations separated Americans with disabilities from the freedom they could glimpse, but not grasp. Once again, we rejoice as this barrier falls for claiming together we will not accept, we will not excuse, we will not tolerate discrimination in America.

With, again, great thanks to the Members of the United States Senate, leaders of whom are here today, and those who worked so tirelessly for this legislation on both sides of the aisles. And to those Members of the House of Representatives with us here today, Democrats and Republicans as well, I salute you. And on your behalf, as well as the behalf of this entire country, I now lift my pen to sign this Americans with Disabilities Act and say: Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down. God bless you all.”

- President George H. W. Bush, July 26, 1990




Brigid A. McGuire, MA, PLPC, NCC, CRC, provides private therapy for individuals and facilitates groups for adults, older adults, and caregivers. She has significant experience working with older adults and their families who face a variety of issues including memory loss, depression, anxiety, grief, isolation, and end of life planning. She also provides therapy for frontline/healthcare/essential workers who worked through the pandemic, people with disabilities, and their caregivers/families.

In addition to private practice, she is the Assistant Director of Social Services at Parc Provence. She has a deep passion for learning and continuing education. She also enjoys participating in various professional organizations and doing volunteer work in the St. Louis community.


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