Disability with Charlotte Paradise.
July is Disability Pride Month – a month where we celebrate and honour the full spectrum of disabilities and advocate for a more accessible and equal world. It offers a great opportunity to educate ourselves on specific disabilities and on ways to fight ableism on micro and macro levels. Will you join me in asking yourself an important first question? Do you value disabled people less than non-disabled people?
If this is your first acknowledgment of Disability Pride Month or the first time you’ve really sat down and intentionally looked at your own (and society-wide) ableism, hey, thank you for being here, you’re not alone. The first question I’d like to ask you is why is it that to value a disabled person’s life, we often highlight their ability to be just as capable as non-disabled people rather than them being just as valuable?
Last week, I was told by someone I love that my disability was limiting to their life, that it created a “lifestyle” that they didn’t want to live with. I cherish self-reflection and looking at myself in the mirror as a way to have healthy friendships and relationships. But, in this scenario the bold thing for me to do was to actually acknowledge that this view was on the other person. To see that it is an opinion inherently steeped in their own prejudice against disabled people – the kind that we face almost every day. Their view that I limit their lifestyle by being disabled equates my being capable or incapable to do something to my value in their life. This is a problem.
Not everyone can do everything, non-disabled and disabled people alike. That’s just a fact. But my frien who has a driving license doesn’t hold more value to me than my friend who doesn’t drive. Yes, disabled people have different access requirements – they may need to choose a restaurant that has a ramp over one with stairs, they may need to go to an audio described cinema screening at a different time, or watch a film at home because of fatigue or anxiety. A person’s requirements shouldn’t make them less worthy of your friendship or your romance. Read that again.
What if caring for someone is actually a privilege rather than a burden? Emily Manock writing for Tabou Magazine puts it perfectly: “Instead of seeing [care] as a burden or a favour, [I] see it as its own love language”. We accept that we all have different love languages: physical touch, words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service, gifts. Showing someone love in their love language is care. This psychology is helpful in normalising care and valuing access requirements from a non-disabled person’s perspective. But it works the other way round too. If you’re disabled and struggling to ask for what you need, try and remember that in asking, you’re giving people the absolute privilege of showing up for you and caring for you in any one of your love languages. Yes, there will be people who snub you. People are selfish and shallow. But in denying your requirements, they show you who they really are, who they cannot be for you, and how their prejudices compromise their own life and relationships.
Disability Pride Month coincides with the anniversary of me becoming disabled. This month marks seven years. Pride really gives me the opportunity to affirm my identity as a disabled person. Being told last week that someone viewed me and my disability as limiting was the absolutely heartbreaking end to a relationship. But it also lead me to a crucial question: do the physical limitations that my disability brings to my life outweigh both the person I am and the qualities it’s cultivated? Absolutely not.
I am more self-aware, empathetic, and passionate now that I’m disabled. I am better at self-care, being intentional with my time and creating space for the people in my life to be safely honest. I may not always be able to leave the house but it has made me more grateful for fresh air, the sound of birds, holding someone’s hand. The dark times make me more aware of colour. A friend’s laugh on Facetime is life-giving and an opportunity to work through pain makes me more determined and assures me I’m working on things that fulfil my purpose. Am I really proud this Disability Pride Month? Yes. I’m genuinely grateful for who I am, for who my disability has helped me become.
It’s so easy to believe that disability is limited and limiting when ableism is all around us. But, the truth is that those who view disability as limiting, are in fact limited themselves. If the truth is that you have viewed disabled people as less valuable to society, you can change that. Listen. Research. Apologise. Believe us. And speak out.
Image courtesy of Lily McDermaid.