Why I'm Grateful to Be a Person With a Disability
A video recently released by Bright Side epitomized the misconception that being disabled means living in confinement, isolation, and hopelessness. The video showed a series of people wishing for a “better” mode of transportation, such as a bicyclist wishing for a car. It concluded with a clip of a wheelchair user envying a boy walking across the street and the text, “Be grateful for what you have.”
I am a wheelchair user, but I am not a punchline to a supposedly inspirational video. I am grateful for what I have, which includes my disability.
Being disabled means that I belong to a group notable for its activism, strength, and knowledge. I have had the immense joy of connecting with other disabled individuals who I met only because of my disability. These individuals have taught me strategies for self-advocacy, the importance of claiming space and power and, most importantly, the meaning of community. They have become my friends, partners and mentors.
I have also developed a disability consciousness, or way of understanding the world informed by my lived experience. While I am constantly learning and challenging my own assumptions, my disability consciousness allows me to intimately know how ableism operates in a way that able-bodied people will never know. My disability consciousness has informed my values, political actions, personal goals, and relationships. I positively use this consciousness to work in coalitions with various communities to challenge oppression and advocate for a more just society.
My disability has also helped me develop personal traits that have served me in many aspects of life. Through years of diagnostic challenges and untreated medical complications, I learned strategies to cope with chronic pain and fear of the unknown. I am able to call on these strategies when faced with other life challenges and to share them with others. Navigating an ableist world with a body that refuses to conform has taught me how and why to push back against discrimination. The strategies I learned because of my disability have been crucial to fighting for justice as a queer woman and being an ally to communities of color.
Why would I be grateful for my disability when videos like this show disability as the worst possible existence? By recognizing the positives of my disability, I am not denying the reality of living with severe diseases or navigating the world that claims I am “other.” Rather than being at war with my own body, I choose to claim my disability as a positive identity. I am proud to call myself disabled, because this identity associates me with people who I admire, recognizes my unique knowledge and honors my personal strength.