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.

Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.

Related to Disability

Jillian and her son.

Why I'm No Longer On the Sidelines About School Inclusion

It’s a journalist’s job to present the facts, to get both sides of the story and deliver their piece without bias. I haven’t worked as a journalist in three years, yet I realized recently that in some ways I still live like one. Too often, I sit on the sidelines of discussions, taking in the [...]
Businesswoman with a disability interviewing candidate at desk in office.

What I Hope Companies Will Learn From National Disability Employment Awareness Month

Dear Employers, Every October, the United States Department of Labor hosts National Disability Employment Awareness Month, an annual awareness campaign that looks to celebrate and educate about hiring people with disabilities. I’m asking you today to consider supporting this cause, hosting events, and most importantly, looking to employ those with disabilities in your workplace. The [...]
Jerry, Erin, and Chelsea.

To My Husband, Who Always Knew My Disability Wasn't the Most Important Part of Me

Dear Jerry, I met you at my sister’s house two days after one of my high school teachers referred to me as a “cripple.” I was a strong, brave kid, but that man’s remark shocked me and almost stole my confidence. I remember my class members seeming startled when the teacher called me that word; [...]
Little Girl Featured in The Inclusion Project

'The Inclusion Project' Photographs Kids With Special Needs Free of Charge

Six years ago, Kathleen Batts, a professional photographer from Claremore, Oklahoma, photographed a boy with autism spectrum disorder for his grandmother. The pair bonded during their session. “They then went on to tell me that they had used other photographers that did not have the patience that I had with him,” Batts said. “They appreciated [...]