Celebrating Disability Pride Month: 5 Ways To Challenge Ableism and Become an Ally

A photo of a man wearing a light blue shirt and khaki pants. He is sitting in a wheelchair in front of various industrial equipment.

July is Disability Pride Month!

Disability pride means celebrating disability as a natural part of human diversity and to embrace disability as an identity that influences how people experience the world.

Disability Pride Month is celebrated in July as it marks the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), which was signed into law on July 26, 1990.

The ADA was a landmark piece of legislation which broke down barriers to inclusion, but people in the disability community still experience discrimination, social stigma, and marginalization.

The system that upholds these realities is ableism: the belief that people with disabilities are inferior to those without disabilities – and that being nondisabled is the standard of “normal living”

These beliefs have real world consequences that prevent people with disabilities from being full members of society.

We all need to take steps to challenge ableism in our communities, workplaces, and within ourselves, so that full inclusion becomes the norm – and not the exception.

In honor of Disability Pride Month, here are five ways that you can challenge ableism and be a better ally to the disability community:

1. Question yourself

Challenging ableism is as much about questioning our own perceptions about disability as it is working to create systemic change.

It is likely that you have developed thoughts and perceptions about people with disabilities over the course of your life. These are likely informed by your experiences, how you were socialized, and representation and depictions of people with disabilities in media.

Take a moment to consider what has shaped your perception of disability. Ask yourself:

“How have I been taught to think about disability?”

“Do I feel that having a disability is abnormal? If so, why?”

“Do my colleagues, family, and friends feel the same way?”

2. Acknowledge that disability is not a monolith

1 in 9 Minnesotans have a disability – more than 650,000 of our neighbors. The people that make up the disability community in Minnesota come from a variety of backgrounds. Some live in small, rural areas, while others live in large, urban cities. They represent a variety of ethnicities, faith communities, and sexual identities.

It is important to recognize that disability is intersectional. Prominent civil rights advocate Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality”: the idea that our identities – race, gender, class, etc. – do not exist independently.

Our identities interact and influence one another, shaping our experiences and the societal barriers we encounter. For example, a person with a disability may face additional barriers if they are part of the LGBTQ+ community or are a person of color.

We may talk about the disability community generally – but people with disabilities are all individuals with unique experiences, challenges, and beliefs. Being an ally means acknowledging the diversity within the disability community and recognizing the ways that having intersectional identities informs one’s reality.

3. Make a conscious decision to educate yourself and others

Challenging ableism requires us to take responsibility of educating ourselves. We should not place this expectation on people with disabilities.

This is easier said than done – especially if you don’t know where to begin. Luckily, there is an abundance of resources available to you online, through your favorite podcast streaming platform, or even your local library.

There are so many topics to explore – from personal stories of those with lived experience to the history of disability rights. As you search for educational opportunities, you should actively seek out materials that are created by people with disabilities which provide a perspective of lived experiences.

4. Identify and eliminate barriers within your sphere

There are a range of barriers – physical, attitudinal, and communication – that impact people with disabilities. We are often unaware of these barriers, especially if we have not educated ourselves or been made aware my someone.

It should not be on a person with a disability to tell us about a barrier they are experiencing. Creating inclusive spaces starts with us taking action to eliminate barriers in our personal and professional lives.

What do these barriers look/feel like? Here is an example:

You work in an office where all desks are set to the same height. An employee who uses a wheelchair starts working at the office but is not able to sit at any of the desks because they are too high.

Fix: Provide a variety of desk types that can accommodate all employees – whether it’s including different heights of desks or desks that are height adjustable.

Always consider who you are excluding by the choices you make. Eliminating barriers don’t just benefit people with disabilities – they benefit us all. Be proactive. And if you don’t know what to do – ask!

Learn more about different barriers to accessibility.

5. Actively collaborate with people with disabilities and include their perspectives

Representation matters. When making decisions, working on projects, or having conversations with peers, it is important that people with disabilities are not just invited, but encouraged to be at the table. Their perspectives should be valued as much as anyone else we collaborate with.

In a survey conducted last year by the Harvard Business Review, 90% percent of people with disabilities reported that they did not feel a sense of belonging at work. While the reasons vary, it is safe to say that many employers are not developing workplaces where people with disabilities feel included.

Becoming an ally means having an active role in creating a culture of inclusion at work, in your networks, and in your community. Inclusion is equal parts involvement and empowerment, where the inherit worth and dignity of all people are recognized, sustaining a true sense of belonging.

Becoming an ally

There is no one solution to challenging ableism – but there are actions we can take each day to be better allies to people with disabilities. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, start with just one small step that you feel comfortable with. Learning and making changes is a journey, and everyone will have a different path to get there.

It is also worth noting that being an ally isn’t something we can prescribe to ourselves. It is a label that is earned by those with lived experience. Allyship is a selfless act, or rather a series of actions, that require active, ongoing work and focus. Allyship is not an identity – but we should all strives to be recognized as allies by our peers, neighbors, and co-workers with disabilities.

Ready to get started?

If you are ready to further your disability inclusion education, get in touch with us! We offer a range of interactive trainings that underscore the importance of accessibility in our workplaces and communities.

With options for virtual or in-person trainings, we are ready to bring the disability inclusion conversation to your staff or community members wherever they are!

Learn more about what Lifeworks offers your business or organization by contacting Lauren Brutger, Community Relations Officer, at lbrutger@lifeworks.org or 651-802-3071.



We want to thank Catarina Rivera, from Blindish Latina LLC, for her contributions to the development of our disability inclusion trainings, which informed the content of this article. 

Catarina Rivera, MSEd, MPH, CPACC is a public speaker and DEIA consultant with over 14 years of experience in the public sector. Catarina works with companies to improve disability awareness, inclusion, and accessibility. Learn more about Catarina and her services on her website: https://www.catarinarivera.com/