Disability Pride Madison is a grassroots organization founded in 2013. Its creation was inspired by local activists Karen Milstein, Sara Karon (who was involved in the nation’s first Disability Pride Parade in Boston in 1990) and Jason Glozier (Disability Rights and Services Program Specialist at City of Madison).They wanted to bring the fierceness and joy of disability pride celebrations happening in other, larger U.S. cities to Madison. Madison’s focus was to host a yearly festival in late July to coincide with the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act on July 26, 1990. The festival is an opportunity to bring the disability community together to celebrate and honor one another, build our communities, learn about local resources, buy goods from disabled creatives, and to enjoy food, beverages, and entertainment created by the disabled community, for the disabled community. The festival, just like other disability pride celebrations, is an opportunity for disabled folks to show up as their entire selves: something that is usually not possible in abled spaces and events with limited, if any, consideration of accessibility.
Intersections within intersections
As we have learned from groups such as Sins Invalid, in addition to making our festival for disabled folks as accessible as possible, we must also consider the diversity that exists within the disability community and how societal factors impact access. For example, while the pride in Disability Pride Madison does not specifically refer to LGBTQ+ Pride, some of the founders of Disability Pride Madison and the majority of the current Disability Pride Board members are LGBTQ+. This is consistent with recent research by the Movement Advancement Project finding that LGBTQ+ people are more likely to have a disability than cisgender and heterosexual people. In other words: Disability is an LGBTQ+ issue. And considering overlapping identities within the disability community and the LGBTQ+ community, it is easy to see how the definitions of access and accessibility need to take into account the social barriers that exist due to compounding social prejudices.
We recognize that our disabled community is diverse not only on the axis of disability, but also that disability impacts people differently depending on other factors of social stratification such as race, gender, sexuality, class, education, immigration status, education, incarceration, etc. Disability Pride Madison is rooted in an ethic of disability justice incorporating an intersectional lens on disability.
A pivot and a look within
With 2020 marking the 30th anniversary of the ADA, we were excited to make this historic milestone the focus of the 2020 Disability Pride Festival. We were in the midst of planning the 2020 festival, as well as other community advocacy opportunities, when in March the widespread impact of COVID-19 reached Madison. With lockdowns instituted and safety of primary concern, we made the decision to cancel the in-person Disability Pride Festival.
Then, in May of 2020, the brutal murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis Police Officer was captured on video and the nation, and world, erupted in protest. Disability Pride Madson took a critical internal look at the makeup of our majority white board and membership. We cared deeply about intersectional disability justice, but realized we were not using our platform to advocate for racial justice.
With the in-person festival put on hold and Covid severely impacting disabled communities, we decided to use funding earmarked for the 2020 Festival to fund a virtual showcase for Black and disabled creators. The showcase is a way we can center the voices, art, needs, experiences, and lives of Black people, and Black disabled people and communities, in Madison and beyond. We currently have 26 participants, including Madison based creators Jerome L. Glenn, Michael Ward, Dyshaunn Simmons, T. S. Banks, Tiffany Lee, Felicia F. Clark, and Kiah Garnet. Our other artists hail from as near as Milwaukee and as far as London: Nychelle Paige, Sunny Brettman, Taylor Goethe, Vicente Valentino, Basil Wright, Takeela (Kiki) Traner, Kosmo Parker, Ashanti Fortson, Dr. Marcia Denis, Shawn Bethea, Mary Russell, Rif Mincie, Mwatuangi, Kaya, Josiah Oyawale, Matt Maxey, Tahnee Jones, David Player, and Caffeyne Luv. Each creator received a $250 stipend, and provided a bio, photos, and links to shops and social media for us to feature on our website. We are hoping to keep the showcase running and add more creators to it every year. We will be doing a “rerun” feature of participants on our Facebook and Twitter this July.
We are not able to host a festival for 2021, but on July 31 we are inviting folks to come to Tenney Park from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. for a small, casual, minimalist, socially distanced and masked Disability Pride Madison Summertime Gathering! While Dane County has lifted all COVID-19 restrictions and the CDC no longer recommends masks for vaccinated people, we recognize that the best practices of public health do not always reflect what is safe and just for disabled people and communities. The situation with Covid is still developing and we recognize that for many people the pandemic is not over. We are strongly opposed to putting anyone at risk, including our friends and family who are still cautious about potential exposure. At the same time, we recognize that for many, especially in the disabled community, the past year has been traumatic and isolating, and that many of us will benefit from being together in community while observing safety protocols.
This Covid year has been devastating to the disabled community in many ways. We were subjected to eugenic rhetoric in careless debate on who was worth saving in the midst of a global pandemic. We saw the world become accessible in ways that we have long been advocating for, yet the emergency funding that was provided to corporations, organizations, and individuals was not to create more access for disabled folks. Rather, this funding was used to make the world more accessible for abled folks to continue to operate by “business as usual.” Disabled folks were actively deprioritized at the height of the pandemic, and we’ve been deprioritized again as those who are ready to be done with the global pandemic are pressuring us all to go back to the pre-Covid normal. But now that many of us in the disabled community have experienced greater access in the last year, it is inhumane to expect us not to fight for the same level of access that abled folks were granted in the past year, as well as to fight for greater access for all disabled folks.
With these factors in mind we are planning to host several virtual events this summer and into the future. We are working with Sky Cubacub of Rebirth Garments for a virtual event in early August, with whom we had previously planned to host a QueerCrip Fashion Performance in early 2020, so we’re very excited for the chance to work with them again. We will be hosting a series of writing workshops with the Arts and Literature Laboratory this summer and into the fall. We’ve also received funding from the New Harvest foundation to host a lecture series with queer and disabled People of Color that we plan to host later this year/early next year. Stay tuned to our Facebook and Twitter pages for more information as we work out all of the details!
“The queer future is disabled” means that it is necessary that queer spaces become accessible and that abled queer folks prioritize ensuring that disabled queer folks have the same access to queer events as abled queer folks. We—not only Disability Pride Madison but all queer disabled folks—deserve to have our basic human right of connection affirmed through access to the same spaces as abled folks. We emphasize access to the same quality of spaces and opportunities to exist in the community that abled folks have access to, so that we are able to connect and have the same inclusive experiences as abled folks.
We need access to be prioritized locally, and we are demanding that the LGBTQ+ community do better to make sure that spaces, places, events, committees, access to our shared community is truly shared. This means that we need to be intentional in creating accessible spaces by working with and compensating the disabled community (a broad demographic of the disability community, not just white disabled folks), by learning about and implementing universal design, and by making substantive efforts to identify and remove barriers to access in the community. As Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha writes in the their book Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice, in an essay titled “Making Space Accessible is an Act of Love for Our Communities,” “I think that crip solidarity, and solidarity between crips and non(yet)-crips is a powerful act of love and I-got-your-back.” (2018, pg 75). This sentiment is amplified and echoed by the Access is Love project that aims to help build a world where accessibility is understood as an act of love, founded in 2019 by Asian American disability justice advocates Mia Mingus, Alice Wong, and Sandy Ho. Can we as a community consider what barriers to access would be removed if accessibility was considered an act of love instead of a nuisance or hindrance?
In the same year that Disability Pride Madison was founded (2013), Elisha Lim, a non-disabled, mixed-race, Asian, genderqueer artist created an event/action on Facebook titled “Why would I come to a party if my friends are barred?” This event was inspired by Lim’s friendship with white, queer, disabled activist Loree Erickson; Lim realized that they had been lying to Erickson about parties they had attended because they knew Erickson would not be able to attend due to inaccessibility. Lim pledged not to attend any events that were inaccessible for a year. While there was pushback from the community, the online space that Lim and Erickson created fostered deeper connections across multiply marginalized disabled and non-disabled communities that worked to create spaces of greater access for all in the community. And it was effective.
We need the same level of dedication to access in Madison that Lim and Erickson cultivated in Toronto, and we know it is possible. We have seen how creative solutions can come together to create accessible digital spaces quickly and effectively, so what are our barriers for continuing to offer accessible spaces on digital platforms as well as accessible in-person spaces? What have we learned in these Covid times that can help us integrate access needs into our lives? And if you are a local organizer or working in activist movements, how are you integrating disability justice into your activism?
Board Members: T.S. Banks, Jess Draws, Jason Glozier (not pictured),
Rachel DL, Sashe Mishur, Kate Moran, Jill Nagler, and Cecil Leigh Wilson.
Email: [email protected]
Facebook: Disability Pride Madison