July has been a historic month for disability rights since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) passage in 1990. That same year, Boston held the first Disability Pride Day. The first official celebration of Disability Pride Month occurred in July 2015, which also marked the 25th anniversary of the ADA. Since then, cities across the country have celebrated disability pride month with parades and other festivities. While Disability Pride Month is not yet a nationally recognized holiday, it aims to promote visibility and positive awareness, acceptance, and recognition and educates others on being an ally.
During Disability Pride month, people celebrate the history of the disability civil rights movement and recognize the significant impact people with disabilities can make in their communities and the workplace. Often, our society leaves people with disabilities out of meaningful conversations and decisions. As a result, disability is broadly overlooked in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiatives, whether at the organizational, societal, or individual level. Disability Pride Month provides people without disabilities an opportunity to be better allies for people with disabilities.
How to celebrate Disability Pride?
There are countless ways to celebrate disability pride – amplifying the voices of people with disabilities, educating others about ableism and intersectionality, and creating visibility and awareness.
Let’s focus on encouraging disability pride by discussing how disability visibility and pride are incorporated into mainstream media. Media can make a difference by helping to normalize disability and expose people, disabled and able-bodied alike, to characters with disabilities they can admire and relate to. Below are three films that highlight issues centered around disability in a positive and meaningful way – click on the name of the film to watch a preview.
If you haven’t already watched the Sundance Festival award-winning documentary, you absolutely must! The documentary weaves the summer camp experience of teens with disabilities and the future community they established to advance disability rights. The film uses raw footage and audio to transport audiences into the experience of the Camp Jened campers. The documentary explores themes about inclusivity, activism, the intersection of race and disability, and self-advocacy. You can watch it on Netflix or watch it free on YouTube.
The Peanut Butter Falcon tells the story of Zak, a man with down syndrome, who escapes from the living care facility to pursue his dream of being a wrestler. On his journey to a wrestling school, Zak finds an unlikely source of help in Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), an outlaw on the run. Tyler becomes Zak’s coach and ally – while Zak also helps Tyler come to terms with personal matters that have been haunting him. This film is a rarity in cinema because it is a story starring not just a person with a disability, but one that is prominent and not hidden.
In this freewheeling comedy, medical transport driver Vic risks his job to shuttle a group of rowdy seniors and a Russian boxer to a funeral, dragging clients like Tracy, a young woman with ALS, along for the ride. Give Me Liberty’s biggest success is in not portraying the able-bodied driver, Vic, as a savior, or sacrificing the other actors as props to inspire able-bodied audiences. The cast of marginalized nonconformists allows each person to bring their unique humanity to the center of the film in an unapologetic manner, allowing the film to reach for something true.
It’s time we start recognizing and celebrating people with disabilities as valued members of our society because disability can impact all of us. Stories in the media can have a profound influence on public perception and societal norms. Persons with disabilities are rarely represented in the media, and when they are featured, it is often through negative stereotypes. The media can be an essential channel for raising awareness and countering stigmas and misinformation. It can be a powerful force to change societal misconceptions and present persons with disabilities as individuals that are a part of human diversity.