July is Disability Pride Month. More than halfway through the month, I find this idea of disability pride nibbling at my thoughts -a lot! What I know about myself is that when something nibbles at my brain with some frequency, I need to write my thoughts.
One thing I find when I’m about to write something that may be controversial or unpopular is that I hesitate: worrying about how others in the disability community will judge me and am I representing the disabled community in a bad way or does this make me a “bad” disabled person, whatever that means.
As with every subject under the sun there are as many different opinions on this subject as there are people, and these represent my thoughts and my thoughts only. As I think about disability pride, I’ve been asking myself if I am proud of my disability? What does it mean to have disability pride? Am I proud of my disability? I have to be honest; I can’t say I’m proud of my disability. It’s like saying I’m proud of being a grey-haired woman, a 5-foot 1 inch woman, or a middle-aged woman.
I can’t say honestly that I’m proud of being a blind woman or proud of my blindness, but I can’t say emphatically that I’m not proud of it either. Last year I had an article published about my disability defining me:
I have absolutely accepted and embraced my disability, and getting to that place was a long journey and a story for another post. I’m proud of the many things I have accomplished as a blind woman; I went to college and graduate school, I married a wonderfully supportive man, began a career in the disability field -- which I left to be a stay-at-home mom. I’ve raised three wonderful children, two of whom have given me eight wonderful grandchildren. I have had a 30-something year career as a not-for-profit lay leader serving on boards of many organizations in my community which has involved serving as the board chair for a few, including my current role as board chair of an $11 million organization that serves individuals with disabilities. I have learned to ski, sail, knit, horseback ride, make ceramics and I’ve sky dived (Okay it wasn’t jumping out of a plane, but it was terminal velocity. How many sky divers practice to get their hours? And it was just as scary.) But am I proud of my disability? I don’t know actually; I can’t seem to wrap my head around that concept. I view disability from a lens of disability being just a part of the human experience, not something to be feared, stigmatized or considered to be abnormal, but am I proud of my disability?
I’m proud of the individuals and groups who have worked so impressively for so many years to ensure the rights of people with disabilities. I’m proud of the organizations, businesses, community members and all those who work so hard to ensure the inclusion of people with disabilities in all aspects of our society. I’m proud of those who fight for representation of people with disabilities, and I’m proud of the role (albeit a small one) that I have played in creating awareness about accessibility, rights of people with disabilities, and inclusion.
I’m proud of the people in my life, disabled and non-disabled alike, who have done so much to support the equality of people with disabilities, but am I proud of my disability?
I’m proud of the things I have accomplished in life, but make no mistake; it is not in spite of my blindness. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished in life.
Full stop. End of story.
When people say to me “You are so amazing.” or “It’s inspirational how much you have accomplished in spite of your limitations.” (true quotes from people in my life), I want to hurl! Comments like these just reaffirm for me that many people, not all of course, but many people have an implied bias and low expectations for people with disabilities. Why is it so inspirational that I have accomplished things in my life that are not inspirational or extraordinary for people without a disability? I’ve been known to say that all I have to do is walk out my front door with matching clothes on, two of the same shoes and somehow, I’m amazing and inspirational (full disclosure, I have left my house twice that I know of with two different shoes on!).
I have the same expectations for myself that I would have if I were not blind and why the hell not? I’ve had a great life; one that I’ve always felt gives me purpose, meaning and the opportunity to give back.
There have been many gifts that come along with the struggles as a blind woman. And if I have said it once I have said it a hundred times; for the most part it isn’t my blindness that limits me, but rather accessibility and attitudes of other people.
I have embraced my disability. But that doesn’t mean that if my fairy godmother came down from wherever fairy godmothers come down from and told me with the words “bibbity boppity boo” and a wave of her magic wand that I would be able to see, I would respond, “No way! Don’t sing it!”
Yes, I have embraced my disability. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished and the person I am, but I’m not sure how to be proud of something that truthfully, I had nothing to do with; I didn’t choose to be blind. I certainly didn’t ask to be blind and I didn’t make myself blind, so being proud of my blindness just seems like a strange concept to me.
So, I’m not loving the Disability Pride Month thing, but again, it is just my opinion!