Did you know that July is Disability Pride Month? Unless you’re disabled yourself, you probably don’t – it’s only something that I learned about it within the last year or two. July is a special month for people with disabilities because it coincides with the anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (which happened 30 years ago!). So it seems like a very fitting time to celebrate disability pride.
Disability pride, as a concept, is a complicated one for me. Disability and my identity are so tightly intertwined, and it’s always been a fraught journey for me of finding the line between disability being a huge part of my identity, and disability being the ONLY part of my identity…. or at least the the only part of my identity that people remember. It’s more of an external struggle than an internal one, really. I’ve lived with my disability my whole life; I’m very comfortable with my disability. But society is less comfortable with it, and the reactions tend to take one of two extremes – either an extreme discomfort with my disability, and a desire to ignore it, to pretend like it isn’t there, or to say something like “Oh, I don’t even think of you as disabled!” or “Oh, I forget you have a disability!”
And both of those reactions make it crystal clear to me why Disability Pride Month is so important. I don’t want you to forget I have a disability – I certainly never forget. If you forget, you might also forget to notice the prevalent inaccessibility that continues to exists (even though, you remember, it has been 30 years since the ADA was passed). If anything, as my friend, I want you to be extra aware of accessibility issues, both so that you can advocate for changes, and so that you can tell me if there’s a new coffee shop or restaurant that I won’t be able to get in to. And I do want you to feel comfortable acknowledging my disability, rather than trying to pretend like it isn’t there. Ask me questions…. politely, and in the course of a conversation, not as if I’m being interviewed. If you’re not sure if I’m able to do something/go somewhere, just ask rather than assuming. You’re never going to get more comfortable with disability until you understand it better, and you can’t do that without talking and asking.
So I know why there’s a Disability Pride Month. But if you were to ask me, individually, if my disability is something that I’m proud of, I wouldn’t be able to give a straight answer. It’s certainly not something that I’m ashamed of! But I’m not sure that I’m proud of it, either, much like I’m not proud of my hair, or my eyes. It’s just another part of me that makes me…. me. I do think that I wouldn’t be who I am today were I not disabled – it has shaped my life, and my experiences, in every possible way. And I do want disability to be celebrated and acknowledged. I want people to be comfortable with disability, with all of its nuances, and I want that awareness to result in actual change. Fingers crossed!