Just Say the Word, Disability!

No, “disability” is not a bad word.

No, having a disability is not shameful.

No, disability does not mean being “less than”.

No, disability does NOT mean a complete inability to do things. It only means, needing to do things differently from everyone else.

No, it does not mean that your life loses value. Disabled lives are LIVES WORTH LIVING.

Claiming the disability label for yourself or for your children and other loved ones is NOT a form of “giving up”. It doesn’t mean that you stop working toward greater autonomy, improved abilities, integration into society, or a more fulfilled life. It just means, acknowledging that you may need to do things differently. Sometimes accepting a disability can be an important step toward achieving your life goals. You can’t imagine away limitations, but you can imagine how to work around them.

Claiming the disability label can be an act of pride. Many disabled warriors have fought for everything from the right to ride public transportation, to attend school, to have the same access to information and communication as everyone else, and more. Even if you’re not disabled, then you have still benefited from our advocacy. Every curb cut you’ve ever used for your baby stroller, every line of captions that enables you to understand television in a noisy bar, and many more things are there because we fought for them.

If you’re worried about “appropriating” the term from people who need it? If you are worried that your difficulties are too “minor” to “count”? If you think the best way to show respect for disabled people is to disclaim the label? Please relax. Most of us want MORE people, not fewer, to feel entitled to identify with the word “disability”. Even people who experience different degrees of difficulty may still share a common need for accessible environments and respect for our value as human beings. You’re not taking anything away from us by claiming the identity. On the contrary: you are identifying common ground that lets us work together toward common goals.

If you still believe disability isn’t an accurate descriptor for you? Or if you need to think about it more first? You have a right to define your own identity. You do you.

But please, have the courtesy to disclaim the label in a way that doesn’t imply that being a person with talents, autonomy, and value as a human being is somehow a contradiction to being also a person with disabilities.

And, please, learn what the term means before explaining why it doesn’t fit. If you say you’re not disabled because there are so many things you can do, then you haven’t understood what it means. If you say you’re not disabled because you “only need to do things differently,” then you have just given the definition for what “disability” means. Wouldn’t it feel silly to learn that your explanation for disclaiming the label instead explains why you have a right to claim it after all?

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Five Ways to Support the US #CRPD Ratification Campaign!

I have been deaf since birth.  And, though I didn’t know it until I was in graduate school, I also always have had attention deficit disorder. So I have confronted various forms of disablism/ablism all my life.  (The variant of disablism visited upon deaf people is often called “audism”, by the way.)  And I’m passionate about seeing disablism/ablism be defeated in every country on Earth.  Which we can’t do, at least not effectively, without the right tools. This is why I become frustrated when I meet fellow advocates fighting for disability rights who don’t know much about the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).  

I absolutely love the annual May 1 Blogging Against Disablism Day (BADD) event.  But I also get frustrated when once again another year goes by with very few (if any) contributing BADD bloggers even mentioning the CRPD in relation to disablism.

The CRPD is an international treaty written to protect the human rights of people with disabilities.  Many elements of the CRPD was inspired in part by US disability civil rights legislation, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. In just six years, 130 133 countries have ratified it. And in these countries, advocates have slowly begun to use the CRPD to support arguments for reforming laws to ensure that the rights of people with disabilities are better protected. And governments have been slowly starting to listen.

Also importantly, ratifying the CRPD gives a country the right to send representatives to high-level meetings among countries in which people discuss the best practices for CRPD implementation.  These meetings are a critical vehicle for disseminating ideas and influencing other countries to consider ways to improve their practices in defending the rights of people with disabilities.  But because the United States has only signed, and not yet ratified, the CRPD, we in the US have effectively excluded ourselves from that conversation.  Although the US does still have some influence (after all, we passed the world’s first civil rights legislation protecting people with disabilities), our inability to join these high-level conversations as a fellow ratifying country does limit our opportunities for disseminating ideas to people in other countries in a position to do something about them.

The US disability community, Americans veterans community, various faith communities, parents and families of people with disabilities, and other allies have been advocating for the US to ratify the CRPD.  We failed our first attempt in 2012.  But keep watching for the next attempt!  In the meantime, if you are a US citizen, consider these ideas for how you can support the campaign for US ratification of the CRPD!

1. Educate yourself about the CRPD!

2. Talk to Senators!

  • Visit http://www.senate.gov or download this Word file: Senate Contact List.  Find the website for each of your two senators. Email them, call them, tweet them, visit their offices, or leave messages at their Facebook page!  In twitter, use the hashtag #CRPD.
  • Your message for senators: “Please ratify the CRPD in 2013! This is an important issue for the disability & veterans community!”  If desired, say what your connection to the disability or veterans community is.

3. Lend your Face!

Picture of a woman holding a handmade sign with "CRPD" and "support" written and drawn in American Sign Language, the phrase "human rights" and a drawing of the globe  Picture of an older man and woman holding a sign printed from a computer saying "parents of children with disabilities support US ratification of the CRPD"  Picture of 17 people at the Vermont Center for Independent Living holding signs that together say "CRPD"  A woman seated in a wheelchair poses with four papers that together say "CRPD" (holds C and R in her hands, rests P and D on her legs)

4. Recruit Friends and Family!

  • Educate friends and family about the CRPD.  Ask them to call, email, or tweet  senators–and contribute pictures!
  • Retweet @USICD , @WeCanDoThis13, @AShettle and many other active CRPD tweeters oten.  “Share” the USICD Facebook page .

5. What Can YOUR Organization Do?

This blog post is offered as a contribution to the 2013 Blogging Against Disablism Day (BADD) event. This is an annual blogging activity, held each year on May 1, in which more than a hundred bloggers contribute blog posts on disablism.  Follow the link to discover many other contributions from this year.