At the start of the pandemic, I knew–it was going to be harder to be disabled. I’ve been wanting to write about how my inability to breath with a mask has limited my access to space, but the debate on masks is so polarized that I hesitate.
My relationship to my disabled body is often one of fear–and a lot of that is social fear. After all, I’ve been knocked to the ground in the San Diego airport and cursed at a Farmer’s Market for being too slow to get out of someone’s way. I’m afraid that if I talk about my issues I’ll get screamed at–or hurt.
That said, I’m just not up for the discussion right now. Instead, I want to talk about being inspired–by the documentary movie Crip Camp. You can see it yourself, or read about how a camp in upstate New York led to the creation of the disability rights movement. But what I want to talk about is how it made me feel. Good. Very good! About myself and about other people.
Here are my take aways.
1. Yes, I can call myself disabled. The early disability rights movement was aware of hierarchy but was inclusive–of those born disabled, those disabled by disease (like I was, or by polio), those who acquired disability (veterans, people in accidents). And not just disability in terms of mobility, the movement included deaf people, blind people, and more.
I’m always afraid: people won’t think I’m disabled ENOUGH.
I’m always afraid people will think I’m not able-bodied ENOUGH.
Indeed, I have a problem.
2. Yes, self-determination and self-help (in the communal political definition, not the New Age one) are a powerful force. Disability activists, during a lengthy occupation, were amazed to have three meals a day delivered to them by the Black Panthers, but the ideological overlap was clear. Power–and governments–are not benign. We have to take care of ourselves and each other first, as a way to build our own group power.
3. Yes, I have gratitude. Every time I don’t have to step off the curb but can take the incline, every time I see a ramp instead of stairs…and most importantly, when I realized that the law protected me and I wouldn’t get fired if I started using my cane at work (and that I didn’t have to EXPLAIN)…I feel gratitude. Gratitude to those activists who forced compliance to accommodation, despite great resistance.
4. And yes, I’m going to continue to self-identify the way I please. I say “crip” and “crippled” about myself. I say “crippled” leg. Could I use a nicer word? Sometimes I feel like it, sometimes I don’t. It’s my leg–my body, my self–after all. My self-definition.