What International Day of Acceptance Means to Me

January 20 is recognized worldwide as International Day of Acceptance, which is devoted to accepting and embracing disability.  The process of self-acceptance is often challenging for people with disabilities, particularly because of the negatively-tinted messages society often sends surrounding life with a disability. Today and every day, it is crucial to recognize that life with a disability can be incredibly fulfilling, and work to eliminate societally-imposed ableism by removing the barriers — both physical and attitudinal — that people with disabilities face.

It took me 21 years to be able to speak out about my disability without shame or fear of judgment. I tried to hide my cerebral palsy for nine years of my life. To feel pressure to hide for so long is weighty, and it can nearly break you. And above all else, it’s an indication that society as a whole needs to send messages of acceptance so people with disabilities can fully accept and come to embrace themselves.

Our bodies need to be represented in the media. Buildings need to be accessible. Medical professionals need to understand the disability experience and know that how they speak about disability matters. Children need to know that their peers with disabilities are like them in so many ways, and that bullying is never acceptable. People need to stop showing pity to those with disabilities, because a disabled life can be a wonderful life.

When people with disabilities receive the message from the world around them, loudly and clearly, that they are welcomed, accepted and loved just as they are, the journey to self-acceptance will become far easier. And the goal should be to live in a world fueled by self-love, a world in which people with disabilities love and embrace their identity as fervently as their non-disabled peers.

I can confidently say that, despite the roadblocks that have stood in my way, I actively love and embrace myself — disability and all, even as I stand halfway “in the shadows” and halfway “in the sunlight.” Invisible disability may be imperfect, but it’s my life, and I’m here to embrace every moment of the experience. And that — overcoming setbacks and learning to love myself through it all — is the greatest victory of my life.

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