July 2020 is the first ever Disability Pride Month – timed to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act.
When I saw the first few Disability Pride tweets pop up I was surprised – we very rarely get this kind of acknowledgement of the disability movement – and a little uncomfortable: I wasn’t sure we should be co-opting the language of our LGBTQ counterparts.
I still haven’t squared that circle, and I’m not sure whether another word could be used, but as I have thought about it over the last 28 days I have come round to the idea that we should have some form of ‘pride’ for disability: a recognisable and empowering symbol through which to raise our voices.
I came to this conclusion by realising that I am indeed proud – in the traditional sense of the word – of disability. I am proud of my own success in overcoming the many, many barriers ableism has built in my way, but more importantly I am proud of the movement, what it represents and what it has achieved.
The disability community is my community.
It is where I am safe. It is where people do not require a ten minute explanation. It is where people understand the exhaustion you sometimes feel with ableism and care issues, inaccessibility and pain – but where precisely no one feels sorry for you.
It is where I really, really laugh.
If you had told me this when I first started this blog 10 (10!) years ago, I wouldn’t have disagreed with you, I just wouldn’t have known what you meant. I had never had a disabled friend, had almost never seen someone like me in the media, had no real role models to look up to. The concept of having pride in a body I saw as faulty and marking me out as ‘different’ simply would not have made sense.
As luck would have it, all that would soon change. I would discover Twitter and its activists; disabled writers and journalists would start to become a little more visible. Many of the latter are now, incredibly, my colleagues, and slowly we are starting to change the conversation.
And, most importantly, I would make disabled friends. They are, let’s be honest, among some of my favourite people in the world, and I’m pretty sure they know who they are.
I found my place.
I often wonder whether I would have the same mental health issues now if I had found it sooner.
When I hated my body, these were the people who showed me the problem was not mine but society’s. When I dreaded independence from my parents – or feared it wasn’t possible – they were the ones who showed me the way. When I feared not being able to do all the things I wanted to do, they were the ones who said, convincingly: of course you can.
Along the way they have raised my voice, supported me at work, and helped me find an identity.
The disabled community is such a thing to be proud of. These are people who challenge injustice, offer friendship, create solidarity – and tell the best, most outrageous jokes.
Disability pride? Count me in.