I Am Proud of the Disability I Once Feared
I feared becoming disabled more than I feared multiple sclerosis.
At the time of my diagnosis, I was moving about well enough. My mobility changed as my disease progressed. My severe foot drop, unsteady gait, and change in speech were impossible to ignore.
My prejudice toward the disabled was hard to ignore. I was embarrassed by my disability. I marginalized myself and my needs. I later learned this was a form of internalized ableism. I familiarized myself with the meaning to better understand that which I feared. I faced head-on that which I feared most: being disabled.
I soon realized that much of my internalized ableism was rooted in childhood and resulted from systemic ableism.
According to writer Jahleel Wasser, “Systemic ableism is a system of institutions, policies, and societal values that disadvantage people based on societal values of intelligence, physical ability, and mental abilities. Systemic ableism consists of numerous barriers such as attitudinal, communication, physical, policy, programmatic, criminal justice, social/environmental, and transportation.”
Hindsight has offered perspective on the limited purview I had. While not malicious, this has inspired awareness.
Raised in an affluent enclave in Marin County, California, I wanted for nothing. I participated in a myriad of sports and activities and excelled at sailing and skiing. As an active child, I was not around others with disabilities. I noticed two or three individuals in wheelchairs in a specialized classroom. But this was only during school, and our classrooms were different. Outside of class, I rarely saw or interacted with anyone disabled.
I can see how this contributed to my seeing those with disabilities as different. And while some outward aspects differ, as people, we are all the same. As children, different is castigated and banished. Children fear the atypical. I harbored those same feelings as an adult. I neglected to differentiate the pattern of a child from the mind of an adult.
I no longer feel limited or intimidated because of my disability. I feel empowered and enlightened! And what better month to celebrate than July, which is Disability Pride Month.
According to AmeriDisability, “This annual observance is used to promote visibility and mainstream awareness of the positive pride felt by people with disabilities. … ‘Disability pride’ has been defined as accepting and honoring each person’s uniqueness and seeing it as a natural and beautiful part of human diversity.”
I discovered beauty in myself when I decided to embrace what I had once feared. And when I did, I never looked back.
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