While July is a time to celebrate Disability Pride Month, the journey to achieve pride for the disability community can last much longer than a month. Pride means that a person can feel accomplished in themselves and their identities. However, this is not so simple for the disability community. From inspiration porn to internalized ableism, the disability community must grapple with many outside forces from society before pride can be achieved within. As the disability community fights daily for their worthiness to be recognized and valued in society, it can be extremely difficult to shed society’s ableist ideas and value ourselves. Even though it is no longer July, having pride in ourselves and our disabilities doesn’t just stop. Neither does the fight against ableism to find pride in the first place.
As a child, I used to tell myself that I was disabled because otherwise I would be too perfect. (I know, quite some unbridled confidence I had as a child). I strutted through my elementary hallways – as much as I could with long-leg braces – and kept my head held high. I was proud of myself without even having to consider why. That was until my strut down the hallways suddenly become the root of my bullying. My peers would mock me behind my back as they attempted to mirror my inward turned hands perched on my hips. The person I was so proud of as a child slowly slipped as I began to shrink into my surroundings. I was questioning for the first time who I was due to my disability. As a child, my disability was a source of bullying and isolation and never something that I thought would be the greatest source of my pride as an adult.
While I was already struggling immensely to find my own identity as a disabled person, I was having to constantly justify my body to others. Instead of asking my name, children would gape at my hands and immediately blurt, “What’s wrong with you?” Parents would rush over with an apologetic gaze as they quickly shushed their child and walked away. Meanwhile, I was left wondering what was wrong with me. How could I explain to that child that I was just born that way? Why did I have to? Why were parents so ashamed they were unwilling to have a conversation about disability? How could I explain all of that as a child myself who didn’t even know how to accept my disability in a world that wasn’t made for me?
My disability was and still is the first thing others see when they meet me. While this often means that I am met with stares and whispers behind my back, a simple initial interaction in a doctor’s waiting room was the first moment I remember feeling pride in my disability. As an anxious teenager, I sat reading my book in attempts of forgetting about my appointment and remained oblivious to my surroundings. Something inside of my urged me to tear my eyes away from the page as my eyes landed on a little boy sitting across from me. A smile quickly stretched across both of our faces as we noticed we had the same rare disability. This community and joy in finding someone who looks like you gave me hope. I knew there were other people in this world who would rejoice in my disability, but first I had to seek out more moments of pride as I grew in my identity.
Even as I collected these moments of pride, strangers never failed to make my question myself. Complete strangers would approach me at family dinners and ask if they could pray for me. My skin crawled as the stranger grabbed my hand and looked at me with pity swimming in their eyes. Whether I was walking down the street, going shopping, or attending college, I was congratulated by strangers. I was successful because I had managed to do something beyond being disabled. Stella Young coined this idea as inspiration porn. Inspiration porn is when “we’re objectifying disabled people for the benefit of nondisabled people.” Images and quotations that feature disability, such as “The only disability in life is a bad attitude,” are used to “inspire you, to motivate you, so that we can look at them and think, ‘Well, however bad my life is, it could be worse. I could be that person.’” Inspiration porn increases the fear and stigma of disability. Instead of recognizing the value of the disability community, able-bodied society marvels at us because the simple act of living with a disability is more than they can imagine doing if they were us.
I didn’t realize the vast impact these strangers had on me until I learned about internalized ableism my sophomore year of college. Internalized ableism is when the stigma and social conceptions of disability become so ingrained in a disabled person that we begin to believe society’s ideas about ourselves. I’ve struggled for as long as I can remember with thinking I was a burden, I took up too much space, and I was too dependent on others. My family was not reinforcing any of those ideas and I certainly didn’t come up with them. But popular movie tropes taught me that I was a burden on the caretakers in my family. The medical industry ensured I knew I took up too much space as insurance denied my medical resources. My peers showed me I was too dependent as they went off on journeys that weren’t physically accessible without me. Why, even as a child, was I instilled with the idea that my disability held me back? Why did my disability make me any less perfect? Any less me? It’s because even at the young age of 6, I was ingrained with internalized ableism.
If we grow up with internalized ableism, how is the disability community supposed to find pride when society tells and shows us repeatedly that we have no value or space in our world? Why is it our responsibility to fight this stigma to love ourselves? Why do we have to prove our worth over and over again? Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to any of these questions. Even finding our own personal answers does not necessarily mean that we achieve pride in our disabilities. The disability community has been hidden away for decades because the world fears disability. The world cannot fathom how we find pride in what they view to be broken bodies and minds. But we do. We find pride in ourselves as we survive and thrive despite all of these obstacles. We find pride as we persevere and achieve our dreams despite the numerous times they said we couldn’t. We find pride as we truly inspire our peers because of our accomplishments rather than just our disabilities. We find pride as we fight for accommodations to access our world. We find pride because we have accomplished incredible progress as a community. We find pride because we are fighting everyday against a society that doesn’t value us and a world that wasn’t made for us.
I find pride because at the end of the day I am who I am because of my disability. The lowest lows I have fought against and the highest highs I have achieved have been due to my disability. My hopes, dreams, motivations, and passions are all driven by my disability. Others might not see the internal battle I fight daily against ableism. But surviving this fight, even on the days where I don’t believe I can, is the greatest source of my pride. As an adult, I firmly believe that I am perfect because I am disabled and a part of the glorious disability community that will never stop fighting until society finds pride in disability and praises our value.
By: Allie Tubbs