This year I learned that July is Disability Pride Month. Although I have identified as disabled for a while now, I had never heard of Disability Pride Month before. And to be honest, the concept of being proud of your disability sounds a little weird at first. Disability acceptance: sure, that makes sense. But being proud of it? Especially as someone who is disabled by a chronic illness, being proud of the ways my body is not working properly seems a little far-fetched.
But in the past year I have learned a lot about what it means to be disabled in this society. Although I knew about the ableism many disabled people face every day, I hadn’t faced it on a personal level as much as during the pandemic. Suddenly, it became very clear to me how little disabled people are valued in this society. More than ever I needed the support and community of other disabled people.
Often our identity as a disabled person is hard-fought. We are told that being disabled is something shameful and not something we can or should identify as. People try so hard to separate us from our disability by coming up with euphemisms like “differently abled” or insisting on so-called “person-first language”: we are someone with a disability rather than a disabled person. We are told that we shouldn’t see ourselves as disabled, because disability is viewed as something inherently negative. To identify as disabled despite what we are told is not something that comes easy. It requires us to combat our own internalized ableism – our own negative views of what it means to be disabled and our own negative views about our bodies.
And for many disabled people, it is not just our identity as a disabled person that is hard-fought: our diagnoses are hard-fought too. Many chronic illnesses take years to be diagnosed, because it still happens much too often that doctors do not take our symptoms and experiences seriously. Getting the right tests or getting access to the right specialists can be a never-ending battle. And it does not just happen with chronic illnesses either: many people don’t find out until they are adults that they are neurodivergent. Although being diagnosed with a condition (be it a physical, mental or neurological one) can be hard, more often than not it is also a relief to finally know what is “wrong” with you – to finally have an explanation for the symptoms you have been dealing with for years.
So in a world where you have always been told that something is wrong with you, or that you are broken because of your disability, there can be great power in breaking that narrative. It can be incredibly empowering to not just accept your disability, but to find pride in it. Of course, this is not the case for everyone. It is totally okay if your disability mostly comes with feelings of grief and loss rather than pride. Because those feelings are normal and valid as well.
Personally, I can’t say I am proud of my chronic illness. At best, my chronic illness just is. It just exists without any value attached to it. But I do find pride in identifying as disabled. Because identifying as disabled gave me a community full of people who understand, and who – despite our different disabilities and different accommodation needs – deal with many of the same things. It taught me that in many ways, it is not just my chronic illness that disables me, but I am also disabled by a society that was not made for me. It taught me that I am worthy of accommodations, and that I deserve the same rights as anyone else. And it gave me even more empathy and understanding for other minorities and groups that are discriminated against and seen as less than.
So this Disability Pride Month, I am realizing that yes: I am proud to be disabled. And I am proud of myself, for how far I have come when it comes to my self-image and self-worth.