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Disability Pride Month is More Than Just an Idea

by Aleasa Word, FAACT Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

July 2024

In July 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed by President H.W. Bush. My family was expecting multiple new babies that year, so the significance of this act went mostly unnoticed by us. We sat in anticipation as we expected and welcomed several new babies, each with the hope of journeying through a healthy, complication-free pregnancy. Additionally, we hoped for children to be free of any health concerns. Knowing that things sometimes do not go as planned, the goal was clearly to love the children all the same. Besides, on the outside chance there were issues, children who are born with health concerns are understood, taken care of, and openly welcomed by society, right?

As the years passed, our family, like many others, faced the reality that this ideal scenario was not always met. While the ADA was a monumental step toward ensuring legal rights and protections for people with disabilities, the journey toward true equity and inclusion remains ongoing. Disability Pride Month serves as an important reminder that our work is far from complete.

Children with disabilities often face challenges that their peers without disabilities may never encounter, from physical barriers in the built environment to social and educational inequities. Despite the ADA's provisions, many schools and public spaces still fall short of being fully accessible. This includes provisions for children and adults who live with life-threatening food allergies, anaphylaxis, and comorbid diseases or disorders. Additionally, there are significant gaps in public awareness and understanding of the needs and potential of children with disabilities in all spaces.

Equitable treatment goes beyond compliance with legal standards—it requires a fundamental shift in how we perceive and engage with people with disabilities, whether these disabilities are hidden or obvious. This means fostering environments that not only accommodate but celebrate diversity in all its forms. It involves recognizing and dismantling ableist attitudes that can lead to discrimination and exclusion.

One of the most crucial areas where progress is needed is in education. Inclusive education practices that integrate children with disabilities into mainstream classrooms are essential for promoting social cohesion and ensuring equal opportunities. Teachers and administrators must be equipped with the resources, training, and support to meet the diverse needs of all students. This includes personalized learning plans; assistive technologies; food-free, learning-based classrooms; and accessible teaching materials.

Moreover, the importance of social inclusion cannot be overstated. Children with disabilities should have the same opportunities to participate in extracurricular activities, sports, and community events. Eating is a basic human need, and children in the food allergy community should never feel ashamed or excluded because they eat differently than others. These experiences are vital for their social development and for fostering a sense of belonging.

Families also play a critical role in advocating for their children's rights and needs. It is essential for parents, caregivers, and allies to be informed about the rights guaranteed under the ADA and to actively engage with educators, policymakers, and community leaders. Building a strong support network can help families navigate the complexities of raising a child with disabilities and ensure that their voices are heard.

In our family, those babies we eagerly awaited in 1990 have grown up. Some faced unexpected health challenges, and we learned firsthand the importance of the ADA's protections. Yet we also learned that laws are not enough.

Disability Pride Month is more than a commemoration; it is a call to action. Let us use this month to educate ourselves, advocate for change, and build a more inclusive future for all children. Together, we can ensure that the promise of the ADA is fully realized and that every child, regardless of their abilities, is treated equitably and with the dignity they deserve.