Disability Pride

At the request of Sage Publications, Sarah Triano wrote the following definition of “Disability Pride” for the Encyclopedia of Disability:

”Disability Pride represents a rejection of the notion that our physical, sensory, mental, and cognitive differences from the non-disabled standard are wrong or bad in any way, and is a statement of our self-acceptance, dignity and pride.  It is a public expression of our belief that our disabilities are a natural part of human diversity, a celebration of our heritage and culture, and a validation of our experience.  Disability Pride is an integral part of movement building, and a direct challenge of systemic ableism and stigmatizing definitions of disability.  It is a militant act of self-definition, a purposive valuing of that which is socially devalued, and an attempt to untangle ourselves from the complex matrix of negative beliefs, attitudes, and feelings that grow from the dominant group’s assumption that there is something inherently wrong with our disabilities and identity."

“Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once wrote, “One must not overlook the positive value in calling the Negro to a new sense of manhood, to a deep feeling of racial pride and to an audacious appreciation of his heritage.  The Negro must be grasped by a new realization of his dignity and worth.  He must stand up amid a system that still oppresses him and develop an unassailable and majestic sense of his own value.  He must no longer be ashamed of being black.”  Although there are many barriers facing people with disabilities today, one of the single greatest obstacles we face as a community is our own sense of inferiority, internalized oppression and shame.  The sense of shame associated with having a disability has, indeed, reached epidemic proportions.  Disability rights movements in different countries have made many gains in the area of civil rights over the past decade, but what good is an Americans with Disabilities Act or a Disability Discrimination Act if people will not exercise their rights under these laws because they are too ashamed to identify as being disabled?  “As long as the mind is enslaved,” King wrote, “the body can never be free.”  As long as people with disabilities remain ashamed of who we are, we will never realize the true equality and freedom we so desire.  We must first take pride in ourselves as a community.  We must no longer be ashamed of being disabled.

“Dismantiling centuries of internalized oppression, however, and promoting a widespread sense of Disability pride is easier said than done.  Unlike other civil rights movements, people with disabilities do not always have the benefit of a generational transfer of disability history and pride through the family structure.  There are no “disability churches” per se, neighborhood enclaves, or other communal institutions where people with disabilities can come together by choice and consistently receive positive messages that counteract the depredation wrought by the onslaught of cultural terrorism.  There is a tremendous need to create a counterculture that teaches new values and beliefs, and acknowledges the dignity and worth of all human beings.  Disability pride is a direct response to this need.”

Sarah Triano, National Disabled Students Union

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