Embracing Disability Pride Month: Celebrating History and Community

Headshot of Ness Maloney
Headshot of Maribeth Tabanera

July is Disability Pride Month! In this article, Innovation Hub team members Maribeth and Ness share reflections on what Disability Pride Month means to them personally and for our broader community. This article features discussion about the Toronto Disability Pride March, and features a conversation with Spencer West, one of the organizers of the march. 

Written by Maribeth Manalaysay Tabanera, Blog Writer and Content Writer, Master of Education in Social Justice Education and Ness Maloney, Design Researcher, Engagement & Belonging – Students with Disabilities, PhD candidate, Socio-Cultural Anthropology

July is Disability Pride Month! In celebration of this event, we took some time to learn about Disability Pride by engaging with various disabled community members and organizations. Ness shares the history of the Disability Movement and interviews U of T students about why they attended the Toronto Disability Pride March. Maribeth shares and reflects on their interview with Spencer, one of the organizers of Toronto Disability Pride March. 

Every July, Disability Pride Month honours people with disabilities, highlighting their identities, culture, political struggles, and positive societal contributions. This month seeks to transform perceptions of disability, highlight disabled’ people’s experiences, and recognize disability as part of the spectrum of human diversity. Disability Pride Month originated in the United States in July 1990 with the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Today, it is celebrated globally, including in Canada, where 22 percent, or 6.2 million Canadians, have a disability. (Canadian Association for Supported Employment, n.d.) 

History of the Disability Movement

Ness: Disability Pride Month is built upon a rich and layered history of political organising. Disabled people have long been amongst some of the most oppressed, discriminated against, and misunderstood members of society. In the 60s and 70s, a disability rights movement began to gain momentum in North America, focussing on issues such as changing legislation, improving accessibility, and getting disabled people out of harmful institutions. Various gains were made from these movements, such as the ‘independent living movement’ which sought to integrate disabled people into the community, and the concept of ‘universal design’ which aimed to improve the built environment through elements like curb-drops and ramps. Disability activists successfully lobbied governments and international organisations to recognize disability rights as part of a broader set of fundamental human rights (Heumann, J., & Joiner, K. 2020). 

In the 90s, disabled activists and scholars began to expand their definitions of disability and challenge some of the dominant ways of understanding and representing disability. They put forward the idea that disabled people are not disabled by their bodies, but rather by society. In other words, disabled people’s lives can be made better not through ‘curing’ or alleviating an impairment, but by changing the ableist structures and attitudes that make disabled peoples’ lives hard (Shakespeare, 2010). Judith Butler and Sunaura Taylor talk about the social model of disability in the video, Examined Life. These ideas could be applied to social stigma, the education system, economic opportunities, governmental aid, representation in media and the arts, as well as other domains. The new paradigm shift gave hope that we have the power to build our social worlds in ways that accommodate a diversity of bodies and minds. Disabled people were no longer separated by diagnosis, or stuck in the medical world, but began to shape disability as a powerful identity category for political action and social change.  

The disability movement has also had its flaws. The fight for rights often centred on predominantly white, middle-class people, leaving out many marginalized voices. In 2005, Sins Invalid coined the term ‘disability justice’ to address these issues, laying out a more radical intersectional framework of disability politics. Disability Justice emphasizes the importance of intersectionality and calls for the liberation of disabled people as part of a wider struggle. As Audre Lorde famously said, “We do not live single-issue lives.” Through this lens, ableism, coupled with white supremacy, supported by capitalism, and underscored by heteropatriarchy, has rendered much of the population “invalid.” To address these complex intersections of disability justice, new terminology and movements have emerged, such as the neurodiversity movement, or the reclamation of identity categories like ‘Crip’ and ‘MAD’. For more details on the principles of disability justice, visit the 10 Principles of Disability Justice.

Disability Pride Flag, 2021 (RespectAbility, 2022)

Maribeth: The Disability Pride Flag is a beautiful and symbolic representation of the disability community. Ann Magill designed the original flag in 2019, and in 2021 it was updated in response to feedback from the community members with visual disabilities. Here are its key features and what they represent: 

Black Background: Symbolizes and mourns disabled people who have been harmed and have died due to negligence, suicide, rebellion, illness, and eugenics. 

Diagonal Stripes: There are five diagonal stripes in blue, yellow, white, red, and green. Each colour represents a different aspect of the disability experience. Together the stripes stand for intracommunal solidarity. The diagonal band cuts across the walls and barriers that separate disabled people from society. 

Red: physical disabilities 

Yellow/Gold: cognitive and intellectual disabilities 

White: nonvisible and undiagnosed disabilities 

Blue: psychiatric disabilities, mental illness 

Green: sensory disabilities, including those affecting sight, hearing, and touch. (RespectAbility, 2022) 

Toronto Disability Pride March

The image depicts a diverse group of people participating in the “Toronto Disability Pride March.” The marchers are moving along a city street with tall buildings and traffic signals visible in the background. (Toronto Disability Pride March, n.d.) 

Maribeth: The Toronto Disability Pride March (TDPM) began in October 2011 as part of the Occupy Toronto movement, starting with just 100 people gathering at City Hall. During the first years of the COVID-19 pandemic, the march was held virtually, but in 2023, it returned to an in-person event. I spoke with Spencer West, an organizer of the TDPM, about why Disability Pride Month is so important. He emphasized that “the disability community is the only marginalized community that everyone will experience at some point in their life, whether temporarily or permanently… access is something that everyone needs and will always need.” Spencer highlighted that Disability Pride Month makes the community visible, forcing society to acknowledge and respect disabled individuals. The TDPM serves as a crucial space for discussing disability justice and spreading awareness. 

Spencer shared some of his favorite memories from past marches, including attendees’ surprise and joy at drivers honking in support, which validated their protest. Beyond raising awareness about disability struggles and the value of disabled people, TDPM also aims to challenge other forms of oppression like colonialism, racism, homophobia, and transphobia. The goal is to create an inclusive movement where everyone has a voice in tackling systemic issues. Spencer finds joy and excitement in the monthly gatherings of the organizing committee, which provide an opportunity for disabled people to come together. 

One of the biggest challenges TDPM faces is fundraising and ensuring full participation. The community includes people with both visible and invisible disabilities, and making the event accessible for all is a significant task. TDPM continually seeks feedback to improve inclusivity, asking questions like, “Why didn’t folks fully participate?”  

Participation in TDPM has had a profound impact on Spencer, making him more vocal and empowered to speak up. He has noticed a positive change in his non-disabled friends, who now proactively ensure accessibility when making plans. I appreciate Spencer sharing this improvement in his life, because it reminds us that small shifts in understanding and actions can lead to significant positive changes for disabled individuals. The movement’s potential to spread to other communities excites the organizers, and I hope to see Disability Pride Marches happening around the world in the future. 

U of T students Attending the Toronto Disability Pride March

Poster for Toronto’s 13th Annual Disability Pride March on July 13th, 2024. Includes photo of previous march and details about accessibility accommodations and contact information. (Toronto Disability Pride March, n.d.) 

Ness: The University of Toronto community includes many students who are involved in disability justice work, some of whom plan to attend the Disability Pride March this year. Ness interviewed a couple of these students to find out why it is important to attend and what the march means to them on a deeper level. Will, a graduate student in English, sees the march as an important opportunity to bring communities together and bring disability to the forefront: 

“I think I would say I’m attending the Disability Pride March because it’s important to come together as a community, to forge bonds and foster crip kinship and solidarity. I think it’s also important to have a visible presence, to demonstrate that people with non-normative bodyminds are many and that our differences make us valuable. We should embrace difference instead of being ashamed by it.”  

Will elaborated on the intersectional elements of disability justice, adding that his Asian Canadian identity gives the march layers of meaning for him and his family:  

“Especially for Asian Canadians, disability is often seen as something shameful and there is a lot of silence in our communities and families, so it’s good to put ourselves forward and combat that stigma. My mom, who has vascular dementia, will also be attending with me. I think it will be a good experience for her to meet others in the community and to come together as a family.”  

Manny, a graduate student at OISE, shared that the Disability Pride March provides a rare opportunity to address multiple pressing issues in a way that feels authentic and decolonial:  

“I’m going to the Disability Pride March this year because for me, it is within disability community that I continue to learn how we can radically reimagine our world. And this kind of work is especially important as we work towards one of the biggest disability justice movements of our time—the struggle for Palestinian liberation. Feeling disturbed by the continued assimilation of radical movements into settler colonial projects (such as through the corporatization of queer pride), I feel that the Disability Pride March is one of the few spaces where I can assert a radically mad, crip, and queer way of being that is committed to collective liberation.” 

Toronto Disability Pride March (TDPM) is an annual event that seeks to speak out against ableism and oppression faced by Toronto’s Disability community. We invite the University of Toronto community to attend Toronto’s 13th Annual Disability Pride March on Saturday, July 13th, 2024 1:00 PM – 5:00 PM EST. If you are attending the in-person gathering, they are marching 2 KM from 110 Wellesley Street W to 80 Beverly Street. An accessible van, ASL interpreters, and sighted guides will be available. Any access questions/requests can be emailed to accesstdpm@gmail.com. A virtual live feed will be available on the Toronto Disability Pride March Facebook or Instagram. Please visit their website for their Access Guide and COVID Safety information. 

Maribeth: I look forward to attending my first Disability Pride March on July 13th and I hope to see representation from the U of T community in attendance. Stay tuned for our second Disability Pride Month post, to be published on July 24th that will include our reflections from the TDPM and resources to continue celebrating Disability Pride past July. 


If you or someone you know identifies as a member of the Disability community and needs support:  

  • University of Toronto: Accessibility Services Their team assists in navigating disability-related barriers to your academic success at U of T for your on-going or temporary disability. They provide services and supports for learning, problem solving and inclusion. 
  • Easter Seals’ Family Information Resource Disability Support Organizations 


ASUO AI Labs. (n.d.). Image Accessibility. Streamlit. Retrieved 2024, July 05, from https://asuo-ai-labs.streamlit.app/Image_Accessibility 

Canadian Association for Supported Employment. (n.d.). *Disability Pride Month*. Retrieved June 25, 2024, from https://www.supportedemployment.ca/disability-pride-month/#:~:text=Every%20year%20in%20July%2C%20Disability,natural%20part%20of%20human%20diversity 

Heumann, J., & Joiner, K. (2020). Being Heumann: An unrepentant memoir of a disability rights activist. Beacon Press. 

Nye, A. (Director). (2009). Judith Butler & Sunaura Taylor: Examined Life. [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k0HZaPkF6qE 

RespectAbility. (2022). Disability pride flag: What you need to know. RespectAbility. https://www.respectability.org/2022/07/disability-pride-flag/ 

Toronto Disability Pride March. (n.d.). Toronto Disability Pride March. Toronto Disability Pride March. https://torontodisabilitypride.wordpress.com/

Toronto Disability Pride March. (n.d.). Toronto Disability Pride March Poster. Toronto Disability Pride March. https://torontodisabilitypride.wordpress.com/

0 comments on “Embracing Disability Pride Month: Celebrating History and Community

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *