Disability Pride Month takes place each July in honor of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. For disabled people, it is a time to reflect on the hard work of disabled activists who fight for our civil rights and push to reframe the prevailing narrative of disability from that of a personal tragedy to a celebratory and valuable part of human diversity. The work of those activists secures my right to an opportunity to attend school, lead Angels for Disability Advocacy and write this article for the Herald.
When I think about what to be proud of this Disability Pride Month, I think about how my disability has brought me a unique perspective and a community founded in vulnerability, interdependence, open-mindedness and determination, which I find more valuable than any nondisabled body I could occupy. My approach to problems, uncertainty and inclusion is such because I am disabled. My interest in understanding the lived experiences of those different from mine is rooted in my own knowledge of what it’s like to be misunderstood and have my perspective dismissed. I would be unrecognizable to myself and those around me if I wasn't disabled. I am not made worse off by being disabled; because of my disability, I am a better person, not a broken one.
There have been experiences associated with my disability that stand out as negative and unpleasant. I experienced discrimination in high school which prevented me from accessing a fair and equal education. I was kicked out of a daycare, not because I needed an impossible level of care, but because I was seen as a legal liability. A middle school teacher publicly berated me for “letting” my walker wheels drift when I did laps around the school gym. Former friends grew impatient with my body and insinuated that I wasn’t trying hard enough when they caught a glimpse of how difficult existing in an inaccessible world can be. I was often made to feel like I was in trouble for being disabled. As a kid who hated being in trouble, that made me feel ashamed.
Those experiences and others were hurtful and wrong, but they didn’t happen because of my disability. They happened because bigoted people, ideas and systems of oppression said I wasn’t worthy. Disability Pride Month says I am worthy. It says that I deserve to take up space. It says that the tragedy of disability is not intrinsic to my body but cloaked in the skin of a society that has decided I’m a disease.
At Meredith, it says that the towering inaccessibility of the McIver Amphitheater isn’t my fault, but the fault of those who failed to value my existence in its design and the fault of those who make implicit excuses for them in the continued use of that space today. It says that letting professors create unnecessary barriers to access in their courses by having grade boosts for high attendance, bonus points for those who answer questions the fastest and hints and resources to students testing in class but not those testing elsewhere penalizes disabled students as much as it advantages nondisabled ones. It says that allowing instructors to flout accommodations under the guise of academic freedom is a reflection of this institution’s unwillingness to educate all students and all professors.
It says that the expectation of self-advocacy in a college not poised to respect it or acknowledge its cost to the student is ineffective, burdensome and an obfuscation of blame. It says that solely retrofitting spaces to allow the bodies that colleges have historically sought to exclude without a strategy to change the attitudes that facilitated their construction is just fashioning a new pen for a different kind of injustice. It says that good intentions, while important, aren’t enough. It does not accept that inaccessibility and the attitudes that support it are inevitable and fixed.
Disability Pride Month prescribes the long-sought cure—fix ableism, not me.
By Rebecca Simmons, Contributing Writer