It’s Almost Like Breathing

As we celebrate the 29th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), I cannot help but reflect upon my own disability pride. Every July the Disability Community celebrates in full force as we commemorate the day our country finally recognized the discrimination we face and passed a civil rights law to help us combat that discrimination and allow us to enjoy the same rights and privileges as everyone else in our country. The anniversary of the ADA means so much more to me than just a day that a bill was signed into law. Each year, the anniversary of the ADA allows us to reflect on how much progress our country has made in becoming more accessible and welcoming to the Disability Community.

However, I still encounter some people who ask me why I take pride in my disability. They ask me why I would be proud of my disability because they view my use of a wheelchair as a bad thing. They see me as a person who cannot walk, and therefore, as a person who is less than whole.

I have never seen myself as a person who is less than whole. I am not a broken version of a normal person. I am a normal person. Yes, I do not walk, but that does not make me any less normal than anyone else. I use a wheelchair to navigate the world in the same way that others use legs and I have never found that using a wheelchair is a negative thing. In fact, I love my wheelchair. If I was given the option to be healed tomorrow, I would say no without a second thought. I don’t want to walk. I don’t need to walk to live a fulfilling life or to be successful. I do not need to walk to be happy – I am happy just the way I am.

It is really hard for me to explain why I am proud of being disabled, because, to me – it’s almost like breathing. It’s so simple at its core, yet so profoundly life giving. My disability pride is so natural to me that I don’t even think about it. It’s similar to how I am proud to be a woman, but I have a hard time expressing why I feel this pride.

I think part of my pride comes from this innate feeling of confidence that overwhelms me when I am surrounded by other disabled people. The Disability Community is filled with incredible people with different talents, skill sets, and vulnerabilities, but one thing I have found to be true about our community is that we are resilient. Though none of us have the exact same experiences, we have similar stories of oppression and discrimination by nondisabled people who treat us disparately because we’re disabled. We experience negative treatment – both through intentional actions and through ignorance – but we continue to fight for the rights and respect that we deserve.

Maybe we’re resilient because we have little other choice, but the way we choose to be resilient also makes me proud. The Disability Community doesn’t just keep on going – we keep on fighting to advance the rights and respect of the Disability Community with a lot of flair. We refuse to allow discrimination to get the best of us. We don’t just fight discrimination in the courtroom. We fight discrimination by supporting the talented disabled athletes, comedians, actresses, politicians, and others in our community who are helping to create room for even more of us in spaces where people with disabilities previously were not invited. We fight discrimination by expressing ourselves publicly in protests, in politicians’ offices, and on online platforms where we unapologetically demand respect for ourselves and our allies. And perhaps the best way we fight discrimination is by living happy lives and by loving ourselves.

I know that not all disabled people feel the same way I do about their disabilities, but as we look forward to the future, I hope more people with disabilities embrace their disability identities and start to experience disability pride so naturally that it’s almost like breathing.  

About Stephanie Woodward: Stephanie is a brand ambassador for Quantum Rehab® and works as a disability rights activist. She has received many awards for helping communities become more accessible, as well as for her actions in fighting for the rights of disabled individuals as it relates to Medicaid and other support services. Click here to learn more about Stephanie.