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Being an Ally in 2021

Gray banner with Americans with Disabilities Act 31 Logo

The Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law on July 26th, 1990. However, the fight for inclusion and equity started decades prior. Thousands of people (families, community members, and activists) came together to advocate for the rights of all people with disabilities. The disability rights movement shaped itself after the civil rights movements, taking to the streets and federal buildings to ensure their voices were heard. The movement’s leaders understood that the change they were seeking would need to come straight from Congress. The real fight would take place in Washington D.C.

Without the years of grassroots organizing, protesting, and litigation, all for the advancement of the disability community, there would be no Americans with Disabilities Act today. We have briefly outlined several ways to practice our allyship for people with disabilities and continue to fight for accessibility and inclusion.

What does it mean to be an ally?

Allyship goes far beyond just supporting a cause or community. It is an ongoing practice that requires action. It is a critical component of building a community and making the world more accessible and inclusive.

Being an ally requires that we do some internal work as well, like learning about historical structures and oppression, acknowledging the role we play in these structures, and how we may unknowingly perpetuate them. For instance, ableist language and actions can have very damaging effects for people with disabilities. It is crucial to become acquainted with ableism and the many ways we may see it in our day-to-day lives.

What is ableism?

The short answer is discrimination against people with disabilities that stems from the belief that they are inferior to non-disabled people. Ableism is not just hurtful and inconsiderate language; it often comes in the form of microaggressions and inaccessibility. Below are some real-world examples of ableism that we rarely acknowledge as ableism:

  • Choosing an inaccessible venue for a meeting or event, therefore excluding some participants.
  • The assumption that people with disabilities want or need to be ‘fixed.’
  • Questioning if someone is ‘actually’ disabled, or ‘how much’ they are disabled

Just as ableism can present itself in different ways, so do disabilities. It is important to remember that there is no one way that disability looks. The disability community is also not standardized. Disability does not limit itself to one type of person or disability type. This brings us to the next aspect of successful allyship, intersectionality. 

What is intersectionality?

Examining how race, gender, sexual orientation, and other factors contribute to discrimination is the primary focus of intersectionality. This enables us to consider that although people with disabilities all have a disability, their experience with ableism and discrimination may vary based on these factors. For instance, a white man with a disability will likely face only one type of discrimination. At the same time, a black woman with a disability could face discrimination for her race, gender, or disability.

How can I become a perfect ally?

Unfortunately, you can’t. You will never become a “perfect” ally because that does not exist. The best way to be the best ally possible is by striving always to continue to grow and learn. If you are willing to put in the work to educate yourself, amplify the voices of people with disabilities, and speak up against ableism… you are already a great ally!

On the 31st anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, we encourage everyone to do their part to be an ally for the disability community. Watch the video below from Daphne Frias, youth activist, who shares her five biggest tips to being the best ally you can be.