How we look tells a story. We try our best to be the narrator of that story by expressing ourselves through our appearance. We try to signal that we are laid back and ready for some relaxation when we leave the house in flip flops and a tank top. Or, maybe we try to describe ourselves to others as well organized and conscientious by getting a haircut and putting on a pair of freshly ironed dress slacks.
Unfortunately, people aren’t always allowed to tell their own story by making choices regarding how they look. That is, there are many stereotypes that override the story an individual is trying to tell about themselves, so that others completely ignore the details and instead just see whatever preconceived ideas they hold about people “like that.” This is certainly true of racist stereotypes. For instance, a young Black man will often be seen as a threat because of racist stereotypes and it doesn’t matter if he is wearing flip flops or dress slacks.
Ableist stereotypes also have the potential to obscure other details about how a disabled person looks and the messages they are trying to send with those details. As an example, people that use assistive devices like wheelchairs, walkers, or crutches are often seen as tragic or pitiful and in need of charity. I could be wearing a tuxedo or a clown suit and people would still rush to open doors for me in a display of their charitable disposition toward those “less fortunate.”
The idea of Disability Pride is a challenge to these stereotypes of tragedy. To many people, the stereotypes run so deep that Disability Pride must seem like an oxymoron. Why would someone be proud of a terrible misfortune? Nevertheless, some disabled people understand the harm that these stereotypes do to us and have taken up the challenge of trying to show the world that we are not an embodiment of human heartbreak. We have good days or bad days like anyone else, all while being proud of how disability makes our lives a bit more interesting and, sometimes, a bit more fun.
One way I have tried to express my Disability Pride is by choosing a bright green color for my power wheelchair. My hope is that, when people see me zooming down the sidewalk or across the campus I teach at or through the airport, the green of my power wheelchair will help me tell a story about a life well lived and not inevitable suffering. At least, I am hoping the green chair is effective, so I don’t have to try the clown suit idea.
About Joe Stramondo: Joe is an assistant professor at San Diego University and is extremely active in the disability community. Joe uses an Edge 3 Power Wheelchair to maintain his mobility and independence. In his spare time, Joe strives to be the best father he can to his children. Click here to learn more about Joe.