When Children’s Librarian Shelley Harris was gearing up for Disability Pride Month celebrations at the library earlier this year, she kept thinking to herself: “I really want to go big. I want to go so big.”
Harris spoke recently with WBEZ Chicago’s Reset about the library’s third year celebrating Disability Pride Month, which marks the anniversary of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and celebrates people with disabilities and disability as an identity. In the interview, she described how, for all July, the library offered programs including storytimes, film discussions, an inclusive dance workshop, and a peace circle for people who have disabilities that are not apparent.
“I just want everyone to be aware that disability just means you’re going to do something differently,” Harris said. “It’s not bad, it’s not good, it’s just a normal, neutral thing. And that was really my goal with the programming this month.”
Going big for Disability Pride Month
At the same time, Oak Park resident and disability advocate Kruti Parikh Shah was also thinking big. Specifically: “Wouldn’t it be amazing to do something for Disability Pride?”
Shah, who is South Asian and hard of hearing, told us that she already appreciated how inclusive the library is.
A member of the Disability Leads network, Shah has attended virtual and in-person storytimes with her young children (pictured with them here) over the past five years. She’s also donated clear masks that Harris and other children’s librarians have worn to allow for lip-reading, and she’s gotten recommendations for books on disability inclusion from Harris, including We Move Together.
And as Shah had attended Chicago’s Disability Pride Parade in the past, she thought, why not have one in Oak Park?
‘No one walks alone’
When Shah brought the idea to the library, she remembers Harris saying, “Great idea!,” then forging ahead with planning.
On Saturday, July 15, disabled people and allies marched around the library and Scoville Park in the inaugural Disability Pride March. They held signs bearing messages like “No one walks alone” and “Inclusion Matters” and “I am a person, not a problem.”
“It was such a great way to meet so many individuals I wouldn’t have otherwise,” Shah said, adding that when she spread the word about the pride march on her social media, “Some of my non-Oak Park friends were so jealous. The library is setting the bar really high.”
Harris said the march drew a great group of people, including families, teens, and adults, and that people were excited to be seen and celebrated by their community.
“A woman in a power chair came to the library when we were still on the plaza chatting and saw our signs,” Harris said. “She was so excited to hear we’d had the march and had more programs scheduled.”
Disability Pride all month—and all year
In the Reset interview, Harris also spoke about how people can directly challenge systemic ableism and discrimination faced by those with a disability, all year round.
For example, you could simply observe your community and think about how someone who has a disability would experience it. Is there a step to get into a local business? Are the sidewalks being shoveled? Is the store aisle wide enough for a wheelchair?
When you see barriers, Harris said, you can reach out to your local government and be an advocate.
“We want every family to know that we not only welcome them into our library, but we want them and we need them. Because a community is not complete without its full members. We are a library for everyone, that’s our policy, and if we are going to uphold that and really, truly be a community space, we need our disabled patrons to be with us, to be comfortable in our spaces, to be part of their community.”Children’s Librarian Shelley Harris, speaking on WBEZ’s Reset
‘I am who I am because of my ADHD’
Another program that Harris spoke about with Reset was the Hidden Disabilities Circle. Led by Multicultural Learning Coordinator Juanta Griffin (pictured on the right), it was a space for people who have disabilities that are not apparent.
As Harris noted, people have stereotypes about what it means to have a disability, and certain expectations for how someone with a disability should act.
Harris, who has ADHD and psoriatic arthritis, says the circle was a wonderful way to share with people who understand the experience of having disabilities that are not always recognizable or validated by others. Participants shared ideas on self-advocacy and how to have pride in yourself—not despite your disability, but including your disability.
“I am who I am because of my ADHD, and I’m pretty awesome,” Harris said.