Disability 101

Disability Identity and Pride

The discussion of the models and frameworks of disability begs the question: so what? It is one thing to learn abstractly about these topics, but it is different to allow them to change your perspective of disability. I recommend thinking, writing, or talking about some of the following questions. Am I disabled? (Or, do I have a disability?) How do I view disability in general? How do I view my disability? (Or, how would I view myself if I acquired a disability?) Is there anything about the other models that resonate with me? What would it look like if I thought about my disability from a different perspective? This is just a starting point to help you along your journey. 

As someone who has dealt with chronic pain, chronic migraines, and other neurological and psych disabilities, I resonate most with the disability justice framework. Check out the introduction for more on how I think about my own disability identity. 

Here are some other people’s** descriptions of what disability means to them, and how it has impacted the way they think about themselves:

  • “It has enabled a greater sense of understanding and sense of self.”
  • “My disability has allowed me to embrace who I am and have a greater understanding of who I was and why things were so difficult for me growing up without accommodations.”
  • “I feel like I am more forgiving and accepting of myself after identifying as disabled; consequently, I can be more forgiving and accepting of others.”
  • “My disability means that sometimes, I have to stop. I just have to stop and retreat inward and away from entities outside of myself i.e. school, work, friends etc.”
  • “An explanation for sites of struggle in my life, where my ways of thinking and being were made to be incompatible with the environments I was living in (school especially). A source of community and support, once finding people who shared in those experiences. Sometimes incredibly draining and frustrating, when my brain is my own worst enemy. Sometimes a bringer of joy. It’s complicated!”
  • “I understand how I fit (or don’t) into broader society better now that I’ve learned more about myself and the disability community.”
  • “Tiring. So very tiring.”
  • “Something I don’t quite understand yet. I’ve been told to try to suppress it and act ‘normal’ since I was diagnosed when I was young and haven’t really been exposed to disability acceptance until I joined this lab. Seeing everyone so accepting of themselves has been quite eye opening for me.”
  • “The community is beautiful and great… the thing that gets you access to this community sucks. It’s so tiring and frustrating. It makes you often hate the medical establishment and almost every other establishment. Often in the beginning of my struggle with my disabilities I felt like they were my fault, now I am becoming more comfortable with my disabilities.”
  • “It makes me feel lost whenever I can’t hear and I feel like I get left out of conversations a lot since it’s hard to keep up in a group convo. A benefit is that it has compelled me to be an advocate for myself and my needs.”
  • “I feel like there was a point in my life where I wasn’t impacted by my disability, but now and today, so much of my life is shaped by it. It’s like an invisible passenger that never leaves me alone.”
  • “My disability means that I get to experience college and job tasks in a way that makes me feel comfortable and empowered. When I’m within the disabled students community/disability lab and share my disability, I feel supported and understood. I also struggle with imposter syndrome, and debate on whether or not I have the right to identify as disabled. This has been an ongoing feeling, but being in spaces where I am supported (like the ones I mentioned above), I realize that I do have the right to do so based on my lived experiences.”
  • “While I hate being sick and being dependent upon medication, the experience of the world through the framework of disability is so valuable. I have learned advocacy skills that have helped me in other places in my life, making me an empowered and proud queer, disabled, chronically ill, neurodivergent Latina. I have grown to love my brain and my body in a way I never thought I would. I expect my relationship with disability to change, as everything does.”

**note: testimonies gathered from the UC Berkeley Disability Lab

Disability identity and disability pride look like a lot of different things for different people. In her essay “Why My Novel is Dedicated to my Disabled Friend Maddy” in Disability Visibility, A.H. Reaume (2020) eloquently describes Disabled kinship as “fierce and patient and tender and rare… It’s tinged with grief and pain and also with defiance. It’s gentle and it’s incredibly kind.” Similarly, in Ellen Samuels“Six Ways of Looking at Crip Time” in Disability Visibility, she appeals “for us to hold on to that celebration, that new way of being, and yet also allow ourselves to feel the pain of crip time, its melancholy, its brokenness.”

There is something I want to make clear, though. The disability community is big enough for everyone who wants to join. You don’t have to worry about being “disabled enough.” Yes, our abilities vary from one another, but you are welcome to join us.