Many Americans may associate March with St. Patrick’s Day, a cultural and religious celebration of the patron saint of Ireland Saint Patrick, or in recent years with Women’s History Month to showcase the contributions women-identifying and AFAB (assigned female at birth) individuals have made to society through their social, cultural, economic, scientific, artistic and political achievements. For some, March is home to many different celebrations and changes as we welcome in the beginning of Spring, looking toward the warmer months ahead in hopes of brighter horizons and seasonal festivities. However, with so much happening it may be easy to overlook the vast array of opportunities one has to explore. While there is so much to focus on during this month, one part that should not be forgotten is Disability Awareness Month. What is Disability Awareness Month? Why do we have Disability Awareness Month? All questions that can be answered with a brief review of the history leading up to now.
Red: Physical Disabilities
Gold: Cognitive and Intellectual Disabilities
White: Nonvisible and Undiagnosed Disabilities
Blue: Psychiatric Disabilities
Green: Sensory Disabilities
Black: Mourns disabled persons who have died due to negligence, suicide, rebellion, illness, and eugenics.
Flag was created in 2019 by Anna Magill to represent the spectrum of disability experiences. The original flag had zigzagged lines to represent the ways disabled individuals creatively navigate barriers. Due to the zigzagged lines worsening symptoms for visually triggered disabilities, such as seizure and migraine disorders, the flag was updated in 2021 to be visually safe for everyone. The parallel lines now represent intercommunal solidarity between disabled persons.
In 1973, the first instance of public policy focusing on the needs of the disabled occurred with the passage of Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act. For those who are not familiar, this act was a pivotal moment in United States history as it banned discrimination based on disability for individuals who receive federal funds. Modelled after previous civil rights laws which banned race, ethnic origin, and sex-based discrimination by federal fund recipients, this act made it so the exclusion and segregation of people with disabilities was viewed as discrimination for the first time, meaning that disabilities were viewed as a class, or minority group, for the first time in United States history. Prior, issues such as unemployment and lack of education were seen as inevitable consequences of the physical, mental, intellectual, or developmental disability itself, but Section 504 recognizes that these issues are due to societal barriers and social prejudices preventing individuals with disabilities from the same liberties and freedoms as other citizens. Two decades later after several revisions, inclusions, and exclusions had been made to Section 504, as well as advocacy and activism from the Disability community against negative Supreme Court decisions, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush on July 26, 1990. Since then, ADA has helped to make society more accessible for individuals with disabilities across education, employment, medical care, and access to physical spaces among other achievements.
So, what is Disability Awareness Month? In 1987, President Ronald Reagan established March as National Developmental Disability Awareness Month through Proclamation 5613. The purpose of this proclamation was to bring societal awareness and encouragement to help people with disabilities and support them towards living fulfilled lives. Now known as National Disability Awareness Month, to be inclusive of all forms of disability, the purpose of this month is to bring cultural and social awareness around what disability is, what issues face the disabled experience, and the diversity of disabilities that are present within our society. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), 1 in 4 adults (26%) in the United States are living with a disability. While the percentage of individuals with disabilities is high, often disability is not discussed outside of medical, educational, or legal contexts. During March, the goal of Disability Awareness Month is to de-stigmatize conversation around disability and encourage people to learn more about how disability plays a role in our everyday lives. For some, this may look like volunteering with organizations that work to provide access to individuals with disabilities in a variety of contexts like sports, education, basic needs, or fundraising for research (e.g., Breast Cancer, Alzheimer’s, Diabetes), but for some this may look like understanding and accepting their own disability identity. Organizations such as National Organization on Disability (NOD), American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), International Disability Alliance (IDA), National Council on Independent Living (NCIL), Equip for Equality, The Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD), ADAPT, and the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) are just a few examples of ways that people with disabilities are working to bring the conversation of disability to a larger audience.
Disability is also something that is celebrated year-round. July is Disability Pride Month which, much like LGBTQ+ Pride Month in June, is to celebrate one’s joy and identity as a person with disabilities. October is home to National Disability Employment Awareness Month as well as a slew of international celebrations such as World Cerebral Palsy Day (Oct. 6th), World Sight Day (Oct. 10th), World Mental Health Day (Oct. 10th), among others. Therefore, as part of a collaboration between the Office of Disability Services for Students and Herman B. Wells Media Services, a catalogue of documentaries, films, TV shows, and short videos have been collected to share the various stories that people with disabilities have to tell. Some are more informative, others for entertainment, but we would like to invite you to engage with media this month and every month to learn more about disability in everyday life.
How do you plan to learn more about disability this month? Here are some ideas:
- Watch the films and TV shows provided with friends and discuss your thoughts and reactions
- Check out the websites for each of the organizations provided and see what resources are available
- Go to BeInvolved.Indiana.edu and see what disability-related organizations you can join like:
- The Neurodiversity Coalition
- Wheelchair Basketball
- Autism Mentoring Program
- American Sign Language Club
- College Diabetes Network Chapter at IUB
- Participate in events from local disability-related organizations around you, some examples in Bloomington include: (Click here to access more info from Monroe County Public Library)
- Aktion Club of LIFEDesigns (formerly Options)
- Be Loved Transportation
- Council for Community Accessibility (CCA)
- Indiana Institution on Disability and Community (IIDC)
- Additionally, they operate the Students on the Spectrum (SOS) organization
- People and Animals Learning Services (PALS)
- Special Olypmics Indiana – Monroe County
- Browse Herman B. Wells Library and Monroe County Public Library for books and informative resources on disability
Written by Kade Padgett, M.A.
Access Coordinator for the Office of Disability Services for Students at IUB
Wells Library W302
1320 E. Tenth Street
Bloomington, IN 47405
Office hours: Monday—Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- Phone: 812-855-7578
- Fax: 812-855-7650
- Email: email@example.com
Block, B. (2022, July 15). Have you seen the new disability pride flag? RespctAbility.org. https://www.respectability.org/2022/07/disability-pride-flag/
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023, January 5). Disability impacts all of us [Infographic]. Retrieved February 14, 2023, from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/disabilityandhealth/infographic-disability-impacts-all.html
Diversability. (2018, August 19). A group of Diversability community members posing for a picture at NYC Disability Pride Parade [Photograph]. https://mydiversability.com/blog/2018/8/10/disability-pride-parade-nyc-2018-recap
Elrod, A. (n.d.). Why disability pride month vs disability awareness month?. Specially Gifted. https://speciallygifted.org/parent-tips/why-disability-pride-month-vs-disability-awareness-month/
First Run Features. (2016). Film still from “best and most beautiful things” [Photograph]. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/01/movies/best-and-most-beautiful-things-review.html
Lu, T., & Douglis, S. (2022, February 22). Don’t be scared to talk about disabilities. Here’s what to know and what to say. Life Kit, NPR.
Magill, A. (2021). Disability pride flag [Photograph]. RespectAbility.org. https://www.respectability.org/2022/07/disability-pride-flag/
Mayerson, A. (1992). The history of the Americans with Disabilities Act: A movement perspective. Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund.
National Disability Institute. (n.d.). March is developmental disabilities awareness month. https://www.nationaldisabilityinstitute.org/press/march-is-developmental-disabilities-awareness-month/
Ryan, S. (2023, January 3). Listing: Advocacy groups for people with disabilities. AbilityLab. Retrieved February 14, 2023, from
State of Connecticut Department of Developmental Services. (2015). March is national disability awareness month. Connecticut’s Official State Website.