July is Disability Pride Month, which is something I didn't really have on my radar until I became increasingly involved with the disability community and came to my own complicated acceptance of being disabled.
As I mentioned last year, I'm working harder to embrace my own disability, while also raising awareness. We have a wonderful mayor in our town who works very hard to make our town more inclusive. When I asked if he'd be willing to create a proclamation for Disability Pride Month he was all in. His wife is also one of my good friends and the PT who helped me to get my new wheelchair. This is a couple that walks the talk!
Since disability is so often left out of our discussions surrounding Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, I really wanted to make sure to start a conversation in our town around disability during Disability Pride month.
So, on July 10th at the borough council meeting, Ezra read the proclamation and I gave a short little speech about what it's like living disabled in our town. I shared my own story about living a life as both non-disabled and disabled, about navigating the world as an ambulatory wheelchair user, and about how my illness is sometimes visible and sometimes invisible.
I shared an example of one of our town's signature events--our arts festival--and how inaccessible it is. Needing to step up onto curbs to get into booths. Navigating through grassy terrain with lots of tree roots and uneven sidewalks. Trying to view displays in booths (often jewelry) that are not at a level a wheelchair user can see.
Our arts festival, which also happens to be this week, has been a part of my whole life, but it's increasingly more difficult for me to attend.
In general our downtown is inaccessible--even new buildings haven't used Universal Design. For example, one new building has steps in the front of a separate area and those using mobility devices still need to go around back. Why not just have a ramp that EVERYONE can use?!
Sidewalks are uneven, doors don't have push buttons, stores have displays that a person in a wheelchair can't navigate, etc. Many events are held in our parklets which don't have any accessibility for those with mobility issues.
I spoke to our mayor and the council from my own point of view. As a privileged white woman with one kind of disability, I cannot speak for all disabled people, but I can start a conversation about disability and the need for a world that lets us be a part of it.
For so long, my own internalized ableism told me that because I was disabled, events that were inaccessible were that way because I didn't really deserve to be a part of them. I accepted the societal belief that disabled people do not need to be accommodated or deserve accessibility.
That has changed. And I will keep speaking out and asking for accessibility. (Note: I have emailed our arts festival board twice and written a letter to the editor in the last year regarding the inaccessibility and they have not responded.)
After the event, Mom and I popped over to the library next to the municipal building, where we checked out the Disability Pride Month display. When I emailed one of the librarians early in the year about the library possibly participating in Disability Pride month, she was enthusiastic and excited about it. I'm very grateful to our library for being one that is always seeking out more diverse perspectives.
Yes, I live in a very inaccessible town. At the same time, I love this town. And I love the spirit of our mayor, our council and our library. They are the allies that keep me going, that make me hope for a more accessible town.
Disability Pride Month celebrates the anniversary of the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act 33 years ago. The ADA sought to reduce barriers to inclusion for disabled people. We still have so very far to go. Disability Pride month is a time to celebrate and normalize disability, disabled people and disabled bodies.
If you are reading this as an ally, learn about ways to make our world one with more accessibility, autonomy and accommodations. As allies, listen to us. See us. Treat us valuable members of society.
To those who are disabled and reading this, don't let this post fool you. I'm exhausted too. And angry that we are still treated like second class citizens.