In 2015, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio declared July as Disability Pride Month to celebrate the ADA’s 25th anniversary. Disability Pride Month commemorates the passage of the ADA (Americans with Disability Act) and promotes visibility and positive awareness, acceptance, and recognition, and educates others on being an ally. It’s also about reminding everyone that people with disabilities matter and they have the same values and rights as non-disabled people.emtrain
- Disability is broader than most people think, it can be physical, mental, visible, or invisible.
- At least 25% of American adults have a condition that is considered a disability, yet only a fraction of them identify as disabled.
- “Disability” is not a bad word; people are reclaiming it to stamp out ableism.
- Disability pride is associated with self-esteem and well-being.
It is hard to imagine a world where people accept that being disabled is not actually a bad thing. I mean, yeah my chronic illnesses are not exactly something I would recommend, but that doesn’t make my life of Less Value or that I as a person Matter Less.
Our own journey of having a disability identity is always pretty complex. Mostly because we are part of society and therefore influenced by how it views, well, us. And we have to wade through all that muck in order to come to terms with our own existence and sense of self. It is an emotional journey. One sometimes with some self-loathing. Lonely. Isolating. But hopefully we end up with some level of acceptance and a stronger more well-developed self-identity.
Disability stigma and identity
Like many people, I didn’t identify as someone with a disability for a very long time because of the inherent stigma with the term. Not that I Avoided stigma with the invisible illnesses I had. Not that I avoided discriminated and ableism. Because I sure didn’t. It is just that I thought it would be welcoming more if I accepted the term.
And I also had a sort of mental line in my mind of what disabled was. It was very clear society, insurance companies, my employer, doctors for a time thought I was still mostly functional (so not disabled enough). To them, at that time, I had not crossed that line. To me, that meant I wasn’t and I had to push myself to conform to some level of normalcy. And when I failed that meant it was my fault.
Somewhere along the line I did for doctors and psychologists but not my employer or insurance companies. So apparently there is no agreement on this. By then I was really not very functional in realistic terms, at all. Not dependable. Not reliable. I was really what I would call disabled. But … since it was Invisible it was Debatable. I began to see there was some sort of profit margin attached to this label. Medical professionals would say I was definitely unable to work. (And to me, disabled Always meant Unable to Work- because like most people a whole lot of my identity was wrapped up in work). But for insurance companies, well, that would mean paying out money so I was able to work. In reality, I clearly wasn’t. And that lead to a whole lot of work conflict issues.
When it became really not debatable you still have to really fight for the title. Which is pretty absurd, to be honest.
Because of the years of stigma I have experienced and internalized it is sort of hard to accept the label and why I denied it for so many years. Because I was already made to feel like a failure, weak, worthless, Less Than and useless. So to become disabled it is like saying, yeah, officially I am all those things.
However, once I was out of the workforce for a little bit and out of the environment that made me feel all those things I was able to realign my thinking. I was able to start to build back up my self-worth, my self-identity, my sense of self. One not dependent on productivity or work or what society needs to believe I am or am not.
In a study of people with any kind of health condition, we found that people were unlikely to identify as a person with a disability unless they had experienced ableism and their condition was severe. This is a missed opportunity because my research finds that disability identity and pride is associated with self-esteem and well-being.Psychology Today
Rights and Ableism
- According to the WHO, 15% of the world’s population identify as disabled
- Disabled Americans make up at least 1/3 of all police killings.
- Deaths from Covid-19 are almost 2 X higher for people with disabilities
- Disabled people are 2 times more likely to be the victim of a violent crime than non-disabled people in the US and UK. Disabled people were almost 2 times as likely to be the victim of sexual assault.
When I accept I have a disability and that there are many forms of disability it comes with the understanding that we all have to stand up for each others rights in society. That we have to try to raise awareness. And confront ableism when we see it.
Some of the things I have experienced in my life have been very disheartening, disillusioning and detrimental to my mental health when it comes to my chronic illnesses and pain. And I think if that was my experience there must be experiences that are significantly worse out there.
But the whole system is designed to force you to conform regardless of your state of being physically, mentally and emotionally. And it isn’t really all that surprising under such a system we eventually decline rather than improve. It is more Push Yourself to Conform rather than find a way to improve your well-being in a way that works for you in a balance way so that you can succeed and thrive in your whole life including work.
It is sort of sad because I know what companies say compared to what they do. And it doesn’t align at all in most cases. Perhaps that is lack of training in their management. Not sure. Or it is just the entire culture.
This is why it is vital that we support disabled people in the workforce in standing up for their rights. And standing up for their rights with medical professionals and treatment. I know that over time we get tired of even trying. It just seems so inevitable. That we just don’t even matter in the scheme of things. That a company will find a reason to fire or lay us off somehow around legalities so we have to just take what we can get.
This is capitalism. We are just not seen as productive in the long-term. Sometimes we are seen as a liability. And often companies just do not want to accommodate us. As you can imagine this atmosphere is very damaging to our self-worth and mental health.
We have to remind the world of our value and that we matter. That it is entirely possible to create a workplace with disabled employees where we actually thrive and are just as productive… if they are just willing to do it. The pandemic showed a glimpse of those possibilities for some of us with disabilities. Things we had been asking for forever. Flexwork. Working from home.