Disability Pride: Not just slogans and protest posters
This is the question I'm asking myself: do you have a pride movement without a society asserting (in overt and subtle ways) that you have nothing to be proud of? Did the disability pride movement evolve out of a genuine place of self-love and self-acceptance? Or rather, out of protests by disabled people to prove they have worth in a world that can't begin to understand what that worth could be?
Despite being one of the largest minorities in the United States (nearly 1 in 5 people have a disability according to the 2010 U.S. Census), disabled people face some of the most egregious levels of discrimination in education, employment, access, economic opportunity and medical treatment/diagnoses. Because of this, there are a lot of battles to be fought on the front lines of the disability rights movement. So if you are willing to fight, you better know why you are fighting and what you are fighting for.
Why is disability pride important?
That is where disability pride comes in. Disability pride is the open and vocal declaration, dare I say unapologetic, of one's disability identity. Those who are disabled and proud not only acknowledge they are disabled, but they embrace it as part of their being. It reflects much more of the social model of disability. That is, that the construct of disability resides in the environment, and not in themselves. People who are proud to be disabled aren't looking to be cured, fixed or appeased. Rather, they seek the same rights, access and freedoms that any non-disabled person is afforded.
The Disability Pride Movement aims to change the way society as a whole thinks about and defines disability. A major obstacle is breaking down the internalized oppression and shame that exists among many people who are disabled. Simply put: a core tenant of the Disability Pride Movement is the belief that disability is a natural and beautiful aspect of human diversity.
Disability Pride is also important because it helps fight ableism. Ableism is present throughout society, and can take the form of discriminatory, condescending, rude, or abusive attitudes towards people with disabilities, leading to lack of accessible and inclusive services and communities.
It is important for disabled people to be visible in all aspects of every day life. The more we are proudly visible, the more we will be accepted and regarded as equal citizens. Our pride comes from celebrating our history and culture as well as our unique experiences because we are disabled, and the contributions we can give to society because we are disabled.
Being proud and showing pride can't just happen at disability-rights protests and disability-centric rallies and celebrations. It has to happen on an individual level every single day, in work-places, on the school yard, in church services and every other place where life is lived. Yes, the protests and rallies are important and deserve focused attention. But banner waving and poster passion alone won't sustain the goals of our disability rights movement in the fullness of time. For the long-game and lasting change; for cultural attitudes to be shifted, disability pride has to be a sustained whisper and not just a single roar.
If you want to see more of how I feel about being disabled and proud, check out my YouTube video on the topic: