Next month I am going to a Disability Pride Parade. A Disability Pride Parade. The words feel uncomfortable in my mouth. But I am going.
The fact that I am going to a Disability Pride Parade is quite the bookend to my journey. How did this happen – how did I go from a terrible car accident, hating myself and wanting to die, to attending a parade to celebrate? There is no one moment I can point to that marked the point of crossing over. There were, however, steps: the time I emailed a textbook author to ask her to include the subject of disability in her next edition of a women’s history book; the day I realized that I did not have to reveal the genesis of my disability to everyone who asked; the realization that I was, all things considered, quite OK, and anyone who saw me as otherwise had their own issues surrounding the concept of disability.
My movement into a disability identity has come upon me like layers of paint. I will confess, though, that sometimes I still hate it. There is pain and fatigue, emotional distress from society’s reaction to my presence, and frustration from trying to make my way through a tangle of programs in order to have a career without losing the things that I absolutely need, such as healthcare. Despite all this, or, perhaps more accurately, because of the accomplishment of dealing with all this, there is pride.
But does disability pride come only from the ability to deal with difficult things? Can it come just from having pride in who we are? I was not born with a disability but I imagine that those who were might have an easier time saying that they are proud of who they are. Their disabilities are an intrinsic part of them; it had a hand, from the very beginning, in making them who they are today. (Admittedly, I have not spent much time talking with those who were born with their disability, so please correct me if you have had a different experience.) What about those of us who acquired them later in life? Disability has not always been a part of who we are – we have had to go through a metamorphosis, with varying rates of success. Personally, it took me almost a decade to feel pride about myself and my accomplishments.
Disability pride is about more than just accomplishments, I believe. It is not only about the things we conquer. It is a shout out to the world that we are human beings. Disability Pride is human pride. It is the acknowledgement that even though we look, act, move, and think in ways that are different than most, we are human.
Disability Pride celebrates the outer facets of human experience; it celebrates that dance that we do out on the limbs of society. We do not live in the core, safe parts of the world; we live on cliff edges and in between the cracks where there are wonders to be found. We march to celebrate those found treasures, those journeys, those expeditions where we gather knowledge and little-lived experiences to bring back to the masses. Our bodies and minds pull us inexorably toward the outer rivers of creativity that are the same tributaries that feed artists, writers and music-makers. Some of us return as artists ourselves; and still others of us return with jewels in our pockets, not to show but to enrich our inner selves, which inevitably enriches those around us. God seldom lives in the safe places.
Our parade is a march of detectives, of philosophers, of MacGuyvers. Counselors walk here, and heart-finders, too. There is beauty in facing your vulnerability. We live lives of high risks and high rewards.
This Pride parade also celebrates the anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a set of laws that says Even though disability scares many of you, even though it brings discomfort to you, you must acknowledge us and make room for us, because we are not going away. Disability is a part of life, and your making of disability invisible is what brings many difficulties to us; you may be able to put your head in the sand about it but we cannot, nor do we desire to. This is part of our lives, and as such, it is part of your lives, too, because we are all part of the human experience.
Some, including myself, may say, Disability Pride? That’s weird. Yes, it is. And weirdness is going on parade.