Here's Why the Disability Pride Flag Design Changed

July is Disability Pride Month — it's held that month to recognize the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) on July 26, 1990 — and there's a colorful and meaningful banner to commemorate it. The new disability flag, unveiled in October 2021 by its creator Ann Magill, shows a straight diagonal banner of five colors on a dark background. The flag is an update of Magill's original 2019 disability pride flag, which showed the banner with zigzag lines.

According to the CDC, one in four people across all ages, races, ethnicities, genders, sexualities and religions have a disability, making the community the largest minority group in the U.S. Still, society holds many negative assumptions about disabilities and the people who have them.

Flags can raise awareness and are a symbol of solidarity, pride and acceptance — LGBTQ+ flags for various sexualities and the Juneteenth flag are good examples.

In the same vein,“it’s crucial to let others with disabilities know that they can be proud of who they are,” Jordan LeVan, founder of The Apraxia Foundation, says. “When we're able to accept ourselves, we can then move on to disability pride, which the flag is a symbol of."

What is the origin of the disability pride flag?

Magill once attended an event for the 20th anniversary of the ADA and was disappointed that it was confined to the basement and grounds of an independent living center — instead of out in public. The experience sparked her desire to create a Disability Pride Flag. Magill’s original design featured a zigzag motif to represent how disabled people creatively navigate barriers.

However, the zigzag design created a strobe effect on computer and phones screens, potentially worsening symptoms for individuals with seizures and migraines. So, Magill collaborated with people with photosensitivity and folks in the disability community to amend the disability flag and released a more accessible, updated version in 2021.

What is the meaning of the disability pride flag?

The flag's design has evolved to become more inclusive of diverse disabilities. The amended flag now displays stripes to represent solidarity among the various sub-communities of disabled people. The straight band of stripes is positioned diagonally to showcase cutting across barriers that disabled people face and to evoke the concept of light cutting through the darkness. The parallel stripes are placed from the top left, known as the Canton or place of honor, to the bottom right corner, or the Fly, representing the wider world. Magill says the diagonal is a contrast to the vertical walls and horizontal ceilings that keep disabled people isolated.

To LeVan, the disability pride flag’s intent is to convey there’s nothing wrong with having a disability. “Diversity is beautiful, and we can all offer something different, which is shown in the many colors on this flag,” he says.

What do the colors on the disability flag represent?

The disability flag was designed to include all six standard international flag colors to signify that the disability community is wide-reaching. In addition to changing the motif to straight lines, Magill muted and rearranged the colors in the most recent version. According to her Reddit post, the warm and cool colors were grouped separately on either side of a white band to “lessen the chance of a flicker effect when scrolling online, lessen a nausea trigger for those who suffer from migraines and separate the red and green stripes for those with color blindness.”

She also changed the colors so they each have different luminosity and radiate from the brightest in the center towards darker shades in the exterior stripes, which help people with color blindness distinguish the stripes, even in grayscale. Lastly, the black stripes between the colors were removed.

“The newest design of the disability pride flag is important as it highlights multiple experiences and identifies diversity in the disability community with different colors representing various disabilities,” LeVan says

Here's what the colors symbolize, in order of appearance from top to bottom:

  • Green is for sensory disabilities.

  • Blue represents emotional and psychiatric disabilities.

  • White stands for non-visible and undiagnosed disabilities.

  • Gold is for neurodiversity.

  • Red represents physical disabilities.

The stripes are displayed on a faded charcoal black background which commemorates and mourns disabled people who’ve died due to ableism, violence, negligence, suicide, rebellion, illness and eugenics. The dark background also represents rage and protest against the mistreatment of the disabled community. According to the creator’s statement, black is also a connection to the pirates’ Jolly Roger flag, a general symbol of rebellion.

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