faith in action

Disability Pride Month

Why Should Disability Pride Month Matter for the Church?

Disability Pride Month
A photograph from Moss Rahman in the photo series "Invisible."

Happy Disability Pride Month! Some of you may have never heard this sentiment before.

Disability Pride Day first started after the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed on July 26, 1990. The concept of Disability Pride Month was not curated until New York Mayor Bill de Blasio first declared it on the 25th anniversary of Disability Pride Day. While not yet nationally recognized, many cities and countries have started to follow the mayor’s lead.

What is it all about? Disability Pride is challenging the way society understands and embraces disabilities. It pushes us to accept and honor disabilities as a natural part of human diversity.

Disability Pride works through centering the disability community by creating visibility, celebrating identity, and fighting against ableist biases. Too often, disability is looked at through the medical lens, meaning it is a “problem” that needs to be “treated.” This fails to acknowledge the lived experiences, strength, and personhood of people with disabilities.

Current disability advocates seek to remove the medical model of disability and move the conversation toward the social model of disability. The social model focuses on societal issues as the person with the disability is only labeled as disabled because we live in an ableist world. To uproot the struggles disabled people face, we must focus our attention less on the individual and more on the ableism within our world.

In my very blunt – and some may say pessimistic perspective – the disability community is one of the largest and most inclusive minority groups in society. We are constantly finding new members. Disability does not discriminate based on gender, ethnicity/race, sexuality, or socioeconomic status. In fact, disability comes along with those lived experiences and furthers the divide. Most people will become disabled at some point in their life, perhaps temporarily or due to old age.

This is the reason I believe few people talk about disability. To talk about disability is to encounter and acknowledge our own humanity. To talk about disability justice can mean discussing some of our deepest fears. These are uncomfortable conversations, and most people would prefer to just avoid them altogether. I believe this highlights the reason why disability justice should matter not just to me and other disabled folks but should matter to all living in fragile human bodies, everyone.

Disability Pride has a liberating power, which I have experienced myself. I fought my internalized ableism for years. I was diagnosed with my first disability at 11 years old but it wasn’t until recently that I accepted the realities of disability within my life. I denied my pains, my hurt, and my realities. To avoid making anyone uncomfortable with my condition, I hid in unsanitary bathroom stalls, potentially putting my life in danger. I put my body through unnecessary damage, trying to “overcome” and “succeed,” all in the fear that I would be seen as a burden or less of a person if I did not. I downplayed my symptoms and resisted sharing prayer requests because I felt people were tired of hearing me complain and wanted good news. I avoided using my accommodations in school unless it was the last possible option so people wouldn’t think I was pulling the “disability card.”

It was not until I developed conditions that I could no longer deny or hide just how much my disability was hurting me that I realized just how harmful these efforts were. It was not until I acknowledged that disability was NOT a dirty word. It was not until I realized I was not being allotted the same livelihood and rights as those around me that disability mattered to me.

Disability Pride is important to the community. While society teaches us to deny our disability, that is an unrealistic and harmful idea. I AM disabled. That is not my fault. That is not a problem. That does not make me less of a person. It is my lived reality and experience. It shapes my perspective on the world. It shapes my daily activities. It shapes my connection to those around me. Denying my disability does not take any of this away.

I can love my life and celebrate it as a Disabled person, and this month allows for just that. Disability Pride enables us to speak this truth and love ourselves all at the same time. It allows us to appreciate the relationships cultivated through the shared experience of disability. It allows us to recognize gifts that come out of this difficult experience (such as unique theological perspectives). Following in the lead of Black Pride and LGBTQIA+ Pride, Disability Pride allows us to hold celebration and lament in tension as we work to bring visibility and justice to the disability community.

Why does this matter to the church? Disability Pride is rooted in a profoundly biblical sentiment. As Christians, Disability Pride pushes us to truly honor all of God’s diverse creation as sacred and good. We believe that all people are created in the Image of God; thus, disabled people should be seen as such.

Unfortunately, a lot of ableism still stems from the treatment of disabled people by the church. This has occurred through historical practices, outdated concepts, lack of inclusion, poor theological language/ interpretation, and physical accessibility. The church should be seen as a resource and safe space for all, yet it is too often not so for the disability community. This Disability Pride Month, I invite our United Methodist connection to examine our actions and spaces. Are you familiar with the Social Principles statements on Disability? How are you discussing disability in our sermons, studies, and community? Are you actively combatting the use of stigmatizing or ableist language? Are there people with disabilities in leadership and decision-making roles within the church? Are all spaces accessible within your building (i.e., sanctuary, classrooms, offices, pulpit)? Have you included the disability perspective in your biblical interpretation? Is disability justice included in conversations around social justice within your congregation?

These questions may seem intense, yet it is just the start of the work that is to be done. I believe the church has a restorative and empowering potential for the disability community that can perhaps counter the historical damage that has been done. Before any of this work can truly happen, an awakening, a deconstruction of long-rooted ableist practices, and reconciliation must occur.

Resources for more information:

I highly recommend looking into the resources and articles found on the UMC Disability Ministries Website:

Disability Pride NYC
Americans with Disabilities Act

UMC Specific:

UMC Disability Ministries
UMC Disabled Ministers

Church and Accessibility:

That All May Worship- Interfaith Disability Advocacy Coalition