HomeBensalem TimesLocal with spina bifida advocates for Disability Pride Month in Pennsylvania 

Local with spina bifida advocates for Disability Pride Month in Pennsylvania 

James Henderson, of Langhorne, traveled to Harrisburg to voice his support for HR 379

Spreading awareness: James Henderson, 39, with spina bifida, speaks in Harrisburg about the importance of celebrating Disability Pride Month in Pennsylvania. Submitted Photo

It’s been six years since The Times introduced its readers to James Henderson, a Langhorne resident with spina bifida who spread positivity through his weekly #motivateumonday series on social media. 

Fast-forward to 2024, and Henderson, 39, still isn’t letting his disability hold him back in life. In fact, he’s currently advocating to have all disabled individuals across Pennsylvania celebrated this July. 

During a news conference hosted by state Rep. Joe Hogan, Henderson voiced his support to have House Resolution 379, which would officially designate July 2024 as Disability Pride Month in the commonwealth, passed as quickly as possible with bipartisan support. The resolution was first introduced last year by Hogan, and was reintroduced this year by state Rep. Ann Flood, who represents Northampton County. 

“James actually brought this issue to my attention in the first place,” said Hogan, who met him at a public event. Shortly after, Henderson visited Hogan’s office to speak more in-depth. “[That’s] when I learned more about the topic, more about some of the issues facing individuals with disability, and Pennsylvanians with disability specifically. And I wanted to introduce the resolution to show that I care about this issue, but also that I think it deserves awareness throughout the entire commonwealth of Pennsylvania.” 

Disability Pride Month has been recognized each July on a national scale since 1990, when the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed to protect those with disabilities from discrimination. However, Henderson has found that many people — especially the non-disabled — are unaware that such a celebration exists. If HR 379 was to be passed, it would be formally recognized by Pennsylvania, and would thus be on more radars. 

Defying the odds: James Henderson, pictured with his parents and state Rep. Joe Hogan, was born with spina bifida, but doesn’t let that stop him from living a full life. Submitted Photo

Henderson, a certified disability advocate and member of Middletown Township’s Human Relations Commission, acknowledged the fact that Disability Pride Month comes directly after LGBTQ+ Pride Month, which can be confusing to some, but stressed that both are necessary. 

“’Don’t we already have a Pride month in June? Is it about another group of people waving flags and parading around, proud of being disabled? And speaking of flags, how are they any different from those in June, when they too are rainbow color?’ Those are the questions that I usually get asked from those who are unaware and need to be informed about the significance of Disability Pride Month, and the importance of recognizing it every July,” said Henderson. 

Oftentimes, he explained, a brief discussion is had to answer such questions, but the conversation — and effort on the other person’s part to learn more — usually stops there. Henderson’s hope is that, if Disability Pride Month became more widely known, conversations about the disabled population — which totals over 50 million individuals in the U.S. — could keep going throughout July and beyond, ultimately resulting in more inclusion, access and education. 

“It [disability] can occur at any time, not just at birth. It can also occur from an injury or as we age, temporarily or permanently. So disability is diversity,” he said. “Disability can affect anyone, so therefore, it is important for us all to be in this together. Teaching and advocating is an ongoing process, and if we move forward, then inclusivity in all aspects of life can progress.” 

During the news conference, Henderson listed several things that he hopes, at some point, can be implemented to make life a little less challenging for the disabled. At the top of the list was the teaching of disability history in the classroom. 

“Education is the one thing that I think we need for people to be less ignorant,” he said. 

This would help curb stereotypes about the disabled and help the masses understand that they are capable of incredible things. Henderson, for example, thrived in school. He made friends, did well in his classes, participated in extracurricular activities like choir and student government and, eventually, earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology. 

Though doctors had little to no hope for Henderson before he was even born, his parents welcomed him with open arms, teaching him how to be a positive person with a quick mind and drive to educate others. 

“They raised me to be the active, outspoken leader I am today,” he said. 

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com

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