When I was younger, the idea of disability pride sounded incredulous…
The ‘Who would be proud of their disability?’ thought often rang through my head. As a wheelchair user from birth, my disability made me stick out like a sore thumb when all I wanted to do was blend in. My disability was this thing that made my legs not work. It resulted in me getting bullied because of being different and missing out on doing things and going places others could. It resulted in me being in the hospital more times than I can count, missing a good chunk of both primary and high school's academic and social aspects. It resulted in me being pigeonholed into a line of work that I found stiflingly boring but deemed “…perfect for someone in a wheelchair” Why would I be proud of this thing that was such a burden?
I was even one of those people who hated the word ‘disability’. I would get angry at others for calling me disabled or someone with a disability, and I would use flowery terms to describe my disability. Terms that now make me roll my eyes and get angry every time I hear them used to talk about a disabled person. I’d taken all my frustration of a world not made for someone like me and internalised it. I was internally ableist.
“Disability Pride is about celebrating what makes me different and not diminishing my disabilities to fit in with an ableist world. It’s about being proud to be where I am in life, a homeowner and business owner, not despite my disabilities, but despite the ableist world that I’ve grown up in.”
It wasn’t until I was much older and came to know other adults with disabilities and came across the likes of Stella Young. Stella was, as she put it, fiercely proud. As I read Stella’s words and listened to her speeches, I finally started to unpack my internalised ableism and see it for what it was. I was frustrated at the world but had nowhere to turn that frustration, nor heard others talk about similar frustrations.
My disability wasn’t something to be ashamed of. Instead, it’s the inaccessible establishments, the people who perpetuate stereotypes through inspiration porn and misplacing their bias, unconscious or not, on people with disabilities and buying into the ‘soft bigotry of low expectations’ that is the problem.
Disability Pride is about celebrating what makes me different and not diminishing my disabilities to fit in with an ableist world. It’s about being proud to be where I am in life, a homeowner and business owner, not despite my disabilities, but despite the ableist world that I’ve grown up in. A world which could have easily made me believe I was not destined for more than sitting in an office answering phone calls my whole career.
When I say disability pride is a journey, it’s not linear. Although I am a proud disabled woman, I still get frustrated at having a disability. Times like between March and May this year when I had five surgeries and had to take time away from my business and the sport I love. It’s normal to get frustrated at these things, as anyone with an injury would, but it doesn’t mean they’re not proud of who they are.
Laura Hershey famously said, “You get proud by practicing”, and she was right. However, it helps when you can see yourself and people like you included in the world around you being able to be proud of who they are.