CFR Celebrates Disability Pride Month
July is Disability Pride Month. Disability doesn’t discriminate, so every social justice movement has a disability contingent, and the Disability Rights Movement is actually a synthesis of all the other civil rights movements. Every social justice movement needs to include representation of their Disabled members. For example, Disabled LGBTQI+ are calling out Pride celebrations for not adequately creating spaces for intersectional identities. This must be done by the very people who occupy those intersections. The fight for greater inclusion in Pride celebrations is simultaneously an LGBTQI+ and a Disability Rights issue.
This year’s Disability Pride Month is bittersweet. The majority of people dying from Covid worldwide are Disabled. Roughly a third to half of all people killed by police are disabled according to the Ruderman Foundation, which did an extensive study of the issue in 2016. Disabled advocates believe the percentage may be even higher. George Floyd was a Disabled Black man. Disabled Black Lives Matter is working a parallel process so that the experiences of Disabled BIPOC are included in discussions about racism.
The Paralympics, which stands for parallel Olympics, occurs two weeks after the Olympics is the “main event.” The Rio 2016 Paralympic Games were the most viewed in history, attracting a record cumulative audience of more than 4.1 billion people in more than 150 countries. The Paralympics is a worldwide movement with a goal to “save the world.” The event seeks to draw abled people in through sport and to expose them to a more expansive, dynamic, and robust perspective on the human condition. The goal is to show that we can face anything, if we face it together.
Disabled culture can seem confusing because we define things like “culture,” “heritage,” “independence,” and “strength” differently. The Paralympics is an invitation to the abled community to join us on our terms, and in our spaces. The host country must provide a fully accessible Olympic Village. This means that a host country that normally claims it can’t create an accessible society, for two weeks does just that – their Abled and Disabled citizens experience what an inter-abled society feels like.
I was an honorary member of the U.S. Paralympic team and the Swedish Paralympic team at the Atlanta Games. Every shop had a ramp. Restaurants had tables where I was easily seated, because I came in a wheelchair, and the waiter had to make an accommodation for my family members who were abled. A.J. Withers, a disabled, queer, and trans anti-poverty activist, drives this point home saying: “The difference between the needs that many disabled people have and the needs of people who are not labelled as disabled is that non-disabled people have had their dependencies normalised.”
Disability culture is not defined by inaccessibility, but is instead as a “shared, lived experience.” The Paralympics is an invitation to see our disabilities not as an unfortunate circumstance, but as an expression of the human condition, towitness the beauty of Disabled bodies in motion. There is an incredible documentary about the Paralympic movement called “Rising Phoenix” on Netflix in which “elite athletes and insiders reflect on the Paralympic Games and examine how they impact a global understanding of disability, diversity, and excellence.”
Prince Harry was so moved by watching the Paralympics that he created the Invictus Games, which is specifically for Disabled Veterans. Athletes who disabled each other in war, compete against one another, not to vanquish an enemy, but to create a valued representation of ourselves in the minds of Abled people. When a Disabled athlete falls out of their wheelchair, an athlete from the opposing team is duty-bound to help them up because both athletes recognize they are competing for something greater than a medal.
Prince Harry, along with my mentor, Rev. Dr. Harold Wilke, believes that if countries can witness their citizens who fought and disabled one another in war join together in a competition with the goal of recognizing the innate value of every human being, that greater healing is possible. Disability Culture is about healing that transcends the body. The goal is not to be cured, but to “shine” to project everything we are, not to hide any part of us in the shadows of shame, but to see the beauty within ourselves, in the very parts society says we must try and hide.
To believe it would be progress if humanity were one day to be devoid of disability, is to commit oneself to abled supremacy. I have no desire to be “cured.” I’m thankful to have my Disability because it does define me; it’s just not the only thing that defines me. I’m proud of my culture and my people.
When I was young, I fought to not be called “handicapped” because it means “beggar.” I have had money forced into my pocket, both outside CFR and Jefferson, because people passing by believed the only role I could have at either institution was as a beggar outside, not as a member of the staff. So, I saw it as an improvement when I was called a “person with a disability.” However, part of my identity was left out in that label. The feeling of progress I felt was soon replaced with a hollow sense as it became obvious that some abled people needed to label me using “person first” language because they needed to be constantly reminded that I am a person.
Disabled People aren’t offended by the term “Disabled”; we are offended that some abled people need to use person first language to remember we’re human beings. If there is still a question as to whether we are full human beings, Disability Pride Month seeks to put any lingering doubt to rest. Disabled is a proper noun. It’s the name of our culture, of a People with a unique history and values. In this month, we invite you to understand Us and our Culture, as We view ourselves.