Waving the Muted Colours of our Diverse Community | Disability Pride Month

July holds great significance for the disabled community. It is a month that burns with the fire of the Disability Right Movements and shines with the colours of the Disability Pride flag to celebrate not only our historical achievement as a minority, but also the pride in our diversity.

Why is Disability Pride Month in July?

Disability Pride Month falls in July to commemorate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), signed by U.S. President George H.W. Bush on July 26, 1990 [1]. The new law reinforced the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, confirming equal access to public resources and services and rendering discrimination against people with disabilities to be illegal.

It represented a landmark moment for the United States but also a significant nudge for many other countries to follow the example.  In 1992 alone, Australia passed the Disability Discrimination Act, Zimbabwe adopted the Disabled Persons Act and the Philippines approved The Republic Act No. 727, also known as “the Magna Carta for Disabled Persons” [2]. 1994 was the time of New Zealand, followed by  Great Britain, Northern Ireland, and India in 1995. Over time, many more governments formalised similar laws [3].

Nevertheless, as important as this moment was for the global disabled community, all these Disability Acts covered only part of the rights that the Disability Right Movement had been demanding for decades. The work to be done was still a lot and activists continued their fights for inclusion.

Disability rights protest in Ireland in 2017 urging leaders to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)
Photo by Sinn Fein on Flickr.

The History of Disability Pride

Promoted by LGBT+ disabled activists, the first ‘Disability Pride Day’ took place in Boston on the 6th October 1990, when 400 disabled people came together to make their voices heard [4]. However, it took 14 more years for the Disability Pride Parade to become an official event, seeing the light for the first time in Chicago in 2004 [5]. After that, this celebration gradually spread in the U.S. before reaching other countries. In Europe, the first Parade was held in Belfast in 2014, Zurich followed in 2016, and Brighton was the pioneer city in England in 2017 [6].

Can you believe that Disability Pride Month as we know it today was established only in 2015? It happened on the occasion of ADA’s 25th anniversary, when New York’s Office for People with Disabilities and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio designated July as a month of celebrations for the Disability Right Movement and the disabled community in general [7].

The Disability Pride Flag

Our flag is even more recent. Created by Ann Magill in 2019, it initially featured a lightning bolt striking diagonally through a black canvas – the bright coloured stripes were arranged in a zig-zag shape to represent the struggle of disabled people in dealing with society’s barriers. [8]

This original design, however, revealed to be problematic for people with photosensitivity. The bright colours would flash with the scrolling motion of the screen, originating an effect that could cause seizures and migraines. In the climate of respect and solidarity that is distinctive to our community – one of the many things we must celebrate this month – Magill acknowledged the problem and asked for help to improve the flag.

The collaboration with several people with visually-triggered disabilities led to an updated design with muted and rearranged colours to reduce eye strain. “Each stripe also has a slightly different level of brightness (brightest in the centre and darkening outward), so that even those with some form of colour blindness can distinguish the stripes,” she announced in 2021, upon releasing the new version. [9]

Every feature of the flag carries a complex symbolism, starting from the black background, which represents the “mourning and rage for victims of ableist violence and abuse”. The diagonal band of colours identifies the act of breaking through the barriers that keep the disabled from normative society, but also “light and creativity cutting through the darkness”, as she explains.

Each coloured stripe represents a type of disability:

White: invisible and undiagnosed disabilities.
Red: physical disabilities
Gold: neurodivergence
Blue: psychiatric disabilities
Green: sensory disabilities

Including all six “standard” flag colours signifies that the disabled community is “pan-national”, bringing together people from all over the world. [10]

Celebrating Disability Pride Month

I believe that this flag perfectly embodies the principles of a community based on mutual respect, acceptance and understanding, and we should share it with pride this month, and possibly the rest of the year.

We should buy it, in any form we like, by disabled artists in support of their small businesses.

We should share it on social media, reposting disability advocates to amplify their voices, educating us and others on disability rights.

We should wave it at the closest parade, demanding for our voice to be heard, for our existence to be respected and protected, and our challenges – which are often manmade – eased.

And we should wear it to celebrate our experiences and identities, so diverse and yet all valuable to the building of a better society.

This month, we all have the chance to be disability activists (or allies) working towards the same goals.

Let’s be proud. Together.

Daniela (she/her)

Assistant Prose Editor

Dani is a chronically ill writer and assistant prose editor at Wishbone Words. After earning her MA in Transnational Creative Writing from Stockholm University, she has published creative nonfiction pieces, poems and articles on various online magazines. She writes about disability (mis)representation in the media on her blog and Instagram.


^ [10] Anne Magill, Reddit Post https://www.reddit.com/r/disability/comments/uhhdbv/the_disability_pride_flag_by_ann_magill_me_has/

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