Disability Pride Month: A Time to Celebrate and Advocate

Following the vibrancy of June’s LGBTQ+ Pride Month, it may be easy to overlook the annual celebration of resiliency and innovation for the disability community in July’s Disability Pride Month. Disability Pride began in Boston following the passage of the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990 and has since sparked similar celebrations across the nation.

In 2022, the urgency for greater disability visibility, action, and, of course, pride has never been more pressing. More than three decades since the ADA’s passage, discrimination against people with disabilities seeking access to basic necessities remains entrenched, and the work to dismantle the related social, political, environmental, and economic barriers continues. According to CDC data, there are currently 61 million Americans who experience disability, a number that is expected to grow substantially due to the prevalence of Long COVID and an aging population. At least 26 percent of the United States population lives with disability, but despite the rising rate, people with disabilities experience poverty at double the rate of nondisabled people, and reportedly half of homeless people seeking services in the United States experience disability. In November 2019, the NYC Department of Homeless Services (DHS) estimated that 77 percent of adult families (families without minor children), 68 percent of single adults, and 53 percent of families with children sleeping in shelters had at least one disability.

Amidst the mass-disabling event that is the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen not only a continued lack of support for Americans with disabilities but also statements from the CDC and far too many officials that de-prioritize the needs of the most vulnerable people who remain at significantly heightened risk of severe illness and death due to COVID-19. We have witnessed the same reckless treatment of homeless New Yorkers with disabilities throughout the pandemic, including DHS’ premature closure of de-densification hotels intended to mitigate COVID-19-related health risks for homeless New Yorkers with disabilities starting in 2021, and continuing into 2022. Despite the landmark disability rights settlement in Butler v. City of New York, homeless people with disabilities continue to face challenges as they seek to have their needs met within the homeless services system, and as they search for accessible, affordable housing (as we discussed in New York at a Crossroads, our State of the Homeless 2022 report).

July should be a celebration of the hard-won victories people with disabilities have secured, and an opportunity for disabled community members to feel proud and revel in disability identity. For nondisabled folks, this is a moment to uplift your disabled peers and take action against the barriers that feed ableism. Disability Pride, in July and beyond, is about honoring the largest and most diverse “minority” population and challenge the oppressive systems that people with disabilities and their allies work daily to dismantle.