For the last 10 weeks, I’ve been taking a course my college calls “Introduction to Disability Culture.” To refresh your memory, I’m a senior in college and I have a physically obvious disability — I would like to think that I have been well acquainted with disability culture by now. But I was wrong, and over the last 10 weeks, I have felt so many emotions, ranging from deep sadness and complete anger all the way to pure disgust.
In my class so far, we’ve talked a lot about what defines disability and what defines an able-bodied person. We’ve talked a lot about the perceptions we’ve crafted as a society about disabled people, and we’ve discussed at length how we can change these ideas and work toward a more inclusive society.
But these perceptions run deep. Before the 1940s and ’50s, the lives of disabled people were grim. Many were put into institutions long-term, and others were abused and abandoned by their family. At the time, people with disabilities were seen as a burden. It was unknown how much a person with limitations could accomplish, and by sending them to these institutions, people were given the idea that their loved ones would be safe and cared for. It was only after World War II that our perceptions started to change about disabilities, and the first rights-based groups were born to deal with the injuries our servicemen had suffered. These men needed support, and they craved a way to return to a civilian lifestyle.
Today, we see people with varying disabilities holding all kinds of positions in the workforce as well as leading successful personal lives. We have more access to assistive devices and support than ever before, and yet the stigma around people with disabilities remains strong as ever. The truth is, people are still afraid of the unknown. It is important to keep in mind that the “people with disabilities” group is the only group in society that anyone could join at any time. There is, of course, power in numbers, but often the loudest voices begin with just one.
If you’re wondering if you should share your story — no matter if it’s a tweet where you write about your favorite clothing line, a video you upload to YouTube listing your top 10 disability life hacks, a blog post you write, or a conversation with a friend — you should always share your story.
You will always matter and you will always be relevant. People want to hear your story, they want to relate, they want to help, and they want to be a part of a change as we continue to break down the barriers that once held us back.
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