Have you heard about Disability Pride? Honestly, it wasn’t until a few years into my diagnosis that I first heard of it myself. Though I think that’s because I wasn’t referring to myself as disabled back then, despite spending weeks at a time in bed, wracked with pain and requiring months and months off from work. Unable to function without help, everyday activities became once in a blue moon activities. There have been many times over the last six or so years that I’ve been too unwell to dress myself or shower. Not as a one off, but consistently for long periods of time. At times I’ve been too disabled to work and to walk. My own disability pride has arrived, but only after battling years of internalised ableism.
I was once a person that believed disabilities were -for the majority at least- visible. I believed you had to have a permanent wheelchair or an aid, a prosthetic or an obvious disfigurement to be considered disabled.
I believed if you were depressed you had to look depressed (whatever that looks like) Despite myself suffering from mental ill health since childhood, I still had this idea that mental illness meant being obviously and outwardly ‘crazy.’ (I use this term to poke fun at my own misconceptions and it is not intended to cause offence.)
I’m here today to say, I was wrong. Not only was this way of thinking disrespectful to minority groups including those with disabilities, it was wholly inaccurate, and it was disrespectful to myself. I spent a lifetime playing down my own experiences, symptoms and health issues, because there was no way I was possibly suffering as much as someone else. But there’s an issue with the notion that other people have it worse and therefore we must ‘suck it up’ and the issue is that it’s harmful. It’s harmful because it attempts to invalidate a person’s suffering. Someone will always have it worse, we know this without a doubt, but to apply that to a person’s suffering (including your own) leaves us open to discrimination, feelings of shame and guilty whilst also furthering to escalate mental health issues.
Disability pride means celebrating all disabled persons regardless of the severity of their disability or it’s visibility. Not everyone who becomes disabled will remain so forever, though many people with chronic and ongoing illnesses will be impacted enough by their conditions to be considered disabled.
My battle with internalised ableism is an ongoing one. Despite feeling more comfortable, open and able to discuss my health and it’s effects on my life, I still feel some guilt around doing so. I feel as if I am seen to be attention seeking if I tell the truth about how my illnesses affect me. There’s a real crossover between being positive and not focusing on all of the things you can’t do, and downplaying symptoms to appear more positive to the outside world.
In 2020 around 20% of the working population reported disabilities. This number, though higher than previous years, is still disproportionately low, considering more than 1 in 5 of us are affected by disabilities in the UK. It is unfortunately more likely that disabled people don’t feel able or comfortable disclosing their disability to their employers. Disability pride is a great way to celebrate disabled people for whom we are. As well as raise awareness, and shine a spotlight on discriminations such as the disability pay gap and lack of world wide accessibility in the work place.
The purpose of DP is to highlight that a disability can have a significant impact on a person’s life, whatever the cause and regardless of its visibility. It also encourages more people to be proud of their disabilities. Perhaps you’re like me, and find it hard to pride yourself on things that have felt traumatic, debilitating and painful. Or perhaps you are proud of how far you’ve come, in spite of, or alongside your disabilities. Perhaps, you’re just proud you’ve managed to stay alive. And that’s ok too.
There are many ways you can still get involved in disability pride month. Sharing on social media, writing your story, and talking to your employer about supporting disability pride, are all great places to start.