In the month of July, the disabled community all around the world celebrate Disability Pride Month. Celebrating Disability Pride, as described by AmeriDisability, is “accepting and honoring each person’s uniqueness and seeing it as a natural beautiful part of human diversity.”
On July 26, 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed. It prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in several areas, including employment, transportation, public accommodations, communications and access to state and local government’ programs and services.
That same month, the city of Boston celebrated the first ever Disability Pride parade. A year after, parades were discontinued after the passing of one of the event leaders. It wasn’t until July of 2004 that official parades and celebrations revived in other cities. In July 2015, the New York City mayor declared July the month of Disability Pride as it was the 25th anniversary of the ADA.
Having a disability is an identity like all other groups. There is a culture that people with disabilities share as a whole, and there are subcultures within each disability that someone identifies with. Meaning, they can take pride in their strength as someone with a disability and also participate in that culture along with those who have varying disabilities. They come together in unity, understanding the complexities of the world they have to move around in and how they can be referred to or treated. They can also acknowledge the subculture they participate in as someone who’s deaf or utilizes a wheelchair, for example. These individuals share deeper nuances of their world, how people respond to them, or don’t respond at all. Disabilities aren’t always seen. It isn’t that easy to place them into categories, nor should we try. They represent all walks of life and contribute in the most profound ways in their communities. These people are professionals, athletes, educators, first responders, writers, artists, our political officials, etc. They need to be at the table. They need to be respected; they need to be included and invited into mainstream discussions and decisions.
One of the mottos shared by many with disabilities is, “Nothing about us without us,” i.e. please don’t make decisions for us without our input. What can you do this month and beyond to support people with disabilities?
• Always interrupt stereotypes and negative statements about people with disabilities. Interrupt comments made to or about someone in your presence.
• Ensure people with disabilities are given the same opportunities for employment, inclusion, training, choices, and successes.
• If you don’t know, ask. People are open to someone taking an interest in who they are and asking questions, instead of making assumptions or just staring.
• People with disabilities have a voice. Make sure to include them in conversations about accessibility and accommodations.
• Don’t assume the disabled person cannot speak for themselves. Speak to them, not just to their parents or personal assistant.
• Ask them what language they prefer—person first or identity first. Many people in the disabled community prefer identity first language (disabled person) rather than person first language (person with a disability). Ask what their preference is.
• Find out the appropriate ways to approach someone who’s blind or hard of hearing. Understand that someone’s wheelchair is an extension of themselves and touching it requires consent.
• Include disability in conversation about equity and inclusion.
As we celebrate Disability Pride Month, Team Koka and Voices of the CNMI Tinian Chapter would like to recognize some successes on Tinian. The following agencies and businesses are deemed as accessible: Tinian Health Center, Northern Marianas College – Tinian Campus, Tinian High School, Tinian Elementary, JC Cafe (constructed a fully accessible restroom, modification on the restaurant accessible). Although there has been some progress, there is still a lot of improvement to be done in this area.
Unfortunately, the disabled community still faces many challenges. The most impacted challenge is the use of the word “handicapped” to describe disabilities. This word has a negative connotation and therefore, we should aim to get rid of the word in our vocabulary or when describing people with disabilities. Additionally, although some religious organizations have been accommodating children with disabilities, it is unfortunate that some do not, especially when religion is a very big part of our Chamoru culture. Another challenge that individuals face every day is when people use the ADA parking without the proper placard or utilize the space for “just a few minutes” while they’re in the store or in the building. Lastly, people fail to recognize the difference between complaining and advocating. Schools teach their students with disabilities about advocacy and their rights just to be seen as “complaining” when they practice those advocacy skills in the community. Understand that when they are making requests for events and places to be accessible, they aren’t complaining. They are advocating for a way to be included.
Frances H. Diaz
Sources: zcenter.org; ada.gov; ameridisability.com