Celebrating Disability Pride Month at the Smithsonian Science Education Center: A Conversation with SSEC’s Lead Graphic Designer Sofia Elian

July is Disability Pride Month, an opportunity to celebrate people with disabilities, amplify their voices, and advance visibility in their communities. To highlight this important time, hear from the Smithsonian Science Education Center (SSEC)’s lead graphic designer Sofia Elian, who develops illustrations and graphics across multiple platforms for digital projects such as apps, e-books, and games, on navigating this role as someone with an invisible disability.  

SSEC: What is Disability Pride Month and what is its purpose? 

Sofia: Disability Pride Month began the year the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law in 1990. It celebrates disabled folks embracing their disabilities as integral parts of who they are, reclaiming space and visibility in public with their disabilities, and rejecting shame and internalized ableism. It’s about strengthening and connecting the disabled community, for folks to come together and support one another. 

SSEC: How is Disability Pride Month different from Disability Awareness Month? 

Sofia: [Disability] Awareness Month educates the able community on the disabled community, whereas Disability Pride Month focuses on the disabled community and culture, and celebrating and accepting a part of you that isn’t accepted or celebrated by the world. It’s so important to not just know what being disabled means, but for those in the community to feel supported and uplifted by one another, themselves, and society. 

SSEC: Why is Disability Pride Month important to you? 

Sofia: Being able to celebrate a part of me that I once grieved the loss of is healing and knowing the strength and confidence I get when I am uplifted and supported by others is beyond empowering. To have a month dedicated to that celebration and empowerment is refreshing and provides hope. It also allows for society to be more open to and create more space for the disabled community to say: “We are here, we are proud, and we demand equality.” 

SSEC: How is your identity linked to the work that you do? 

Sofia: I bring my passion and perspective around disability visibility and pride into work every day. As the lead graphic designer on both digital and print products here at SSEC, I enjoy making our content and products more accessible, so all students can thrive and learn. But I don’t just focus on our products; within the workspace I work to destigmatize and celebrate my disability with the support of my coworkers and higher-ups to ensure I not only create inclusive products, but that I feel included and secure while doing so. 

Sofia and her colleagues at SSEC are working to carve out equitable spaces for the disabled community in STEM education. Discover more about the Center’s Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion (DEAI) efforts by learning more about our Zero Barriers in STEM Education: Accessibility and Inclusion Summit taking place between July 25-27, 2023 in Washington, D.C., and downloading the free Zero Barriers Workbook. This initiative is focused on increasing the prevalence of accessible and inclusive practices in STEM education and school culture for all students along the continuum of human ability.