Disability Pride - a movement whose time has come?

"Disability" and "pride" are two words you wouldn't usually see next to each other, and that's something the organisers of New Zealand's annual Disability Pride Week want to change.

Rachel Noble is deaf and one of the founders of Disability Pride Week, now in its third year and expanding beyond Wellington for the first time.

She says the idea grew from a long-standing desire for disabled people to have a stronger collective voice.

"A few years ago a group of disabled leaders met regularly for over a year, going through a process of trying to understand why we, as disabled people, were feeling so disempowered... even though so many people were working so hard.

"We came to the conclusion that we needed to have more opportunities to share our stories about who we are and to gain collective strength from that."

That's the starting point for Disability Pride Week.

"Our vision is for Aotearoa New Zealand to be a place where we as disabled people feel proud of ourselves and our country; where disability is seen as part of the social and cultural landscape. To achieve our vision, disabled people need to claim their own space and be heard."

Ms Noble says pride is a form of empowerment.

A Pride Line led by the dancers of Wellington Integrated Dance.
A Pride Line led by the dancers of Wellington Integrated Dance. Photo credit: Supplied

"Within the deaf community the term 'Deaf Pride' is used frequently, 'Deaf Power', terms reflect on our individual and collective feeling of our shared experiences, our shared perspective of the world and our shared strength as a community.

"Deaf history tells us that Deaf Pride/Power has taken us a long way. Disability Pride has the potential to be the same."

Disability Pride week includes a range of events across the North Island from an arts exhibition to a rally at Parliament. It runs from November 26 until December 3. The final day is International Day of Disabled Persons.

The initiative, now in its third year, has the backing of New Zealand's Disability Rights Commissioner Paula Tesoriero MNZM.

"For me, Disability Pride Week is incredibly important because we need to raise our expectations and demand better in order to change the outcomes disabled people face," Ms Tesoriero told Newshub.

"We can use pride to assert our rights, claim our identity and create positive change."

Four dancers from Wellington Integrated Dance teaching movements for the Pride Line Dance.
Four dancers from Wellington Integrated Dance teaching movements for the Pride Line Dance. Photo credit: Supplied

But the concept is still evolving within the disability community.

Jade Farrar is a disabled person who explains on a recent vlog he finds disability pride "really, really confusing".

Mr Farrar asks, if we want to view disability through the social model, where society is needlessly disabling by design, then how can we be proud of something we're trying to have less of?

"For me, our level of disability should actually be gauged by the amount of participation we have in society," he says.

"I would say there are lots of people, including myself, that still have challenges around that."

A PhD candidate, investigating ways to reimagine disability, agrees about the challenges, but argues disability pride is a way to counter the oppression which holds back disabled people.

"Disability pride is about the acceptance and celebration of difference," Ingrid Jones told Newshub.

"It's about flipping around negative ideas about disability and reclaiming it as a valuable part of humanity. Disability is an opportunity to think about how we can design a world that works for everyone."

But having the vision is just one part of the equation.

Ms Noble says a major challenge has been acquiring funding for Disability Pride week.

"Most funders think of disability as a health issue, definitely not as a collective community."

There are more fundamental questions for the disability community to come to terms with, too.

"Whose identity are we wearing? Our own, or one that has been given to us?  And by whom?"

These questions about agency, along with the role of allyship, have been thrown into stark relief within the Rainbow Pride movement over the past fortnight, as a slew of corporate sponsors pulled their support for the parade in reaction to the decision of the organisers to ban police from marching while in uniform.

Joe Boon, a queer disabled advocate from Palmerston North, says accepting corporate sponsorship for organising can carry a high degree of risk for disabled people, too.

"People with disabilities need to have agency, not to have others speak for them because every disability is different."

Continuing to organise around disability pride may be a bumpy road, but Ms Noble says it's the need for the bigger picture change that motivates her to keep doing that work.

"It is an important tool for achieving social justice for disabled people.

"As Helen Keller says 'Until the great mass of the people shall be filled with the sense of responsibility for each others welfare, social justice can never be attained.'"