Disability 101


If you would like some more background on why this guide came into being and the author behind it, then this section is for you. If not, feel free to skip to the next section.

My name is Abby Fenton and I proudly identify as disabled with non apparent disabilities. At the time I am writing this I am an undergraduate at UC Berkeley involved in disability activism and minoring in disability studies. My first exposure to disability came through my older brother, who has an intellectual disability, which allowed me to understand disability as just a normal human experience. I love my brother so much and am so grateful for him being the first to demonstrate to me that our value as people does not come from what we produce. 

In high school I acquired my first disability which impaired my ability to read. I had to cope without accommodations that I needed. Even though I knew about accommodations because I went through the process with my brother, I never thought for a second that I could use accommodations myself. Before college, the world I knew as disability was not one that empowered the disabled individual, but instead was filled with pity and shame. I did not personally identify as disabled, even after registering in the Disabled Students Program. 

It was during my freshman year of college that I somehow stumbled across empowered disabled people fighting for their rights, identity, and culture. It blew my mind. This happened during Spring of 2020, so I found my connection to disability online, through books, blogs, movies, and online events. Everything I knew about disability came crashing down. I struggled with the idea that I was not disabled to belong to the community as I desired so much to be a part of it. Then, I started to become comfortable identifying as disabled and learned so much more as I took my first disability studies classes with Marsha Saxton. I joined a disabled student activism group and started making other disabled friends who understood how difficult it was to be a college student and disabled. 

Along the way I acquired several more non apparent disabilities. I developed chronic migraine and am mostly recovered from it. I developed psych disabilities. Sometimes I have flares that make it so I am unable to do anything. Sometimes I have flares I am able to work through. It has been so difficult being disabled in some ways. But it has also been so incredible. It is complicated. And that is okay.

I can take pride in my disability identity because of the principle that we are powerful because of the complexities of our bodies and minds. My disability sometimes stops me from doing anything that society deems productive or valuable. This has allowed me to identify my personal value and worth outside of any work I am doing, which is something I take pride in. I am valuable because all bodies and minds are valuable.

I also take pride in the disability community as a place I belong, as an incredibly beautiful community where I can fully be myself. I do not need to try to hide my disability, but I can exist in the beautiful complexity of my body and mind.

I wrote this document because learning more about disability has transformed the way I think about myself, my family, and everyone around me. It brought me out of shame and pity and allowed me to feel empowered. I want to share some of the ideas that helped me along the way in the hopes that this may expose you to a different perspective on disability. If you are disabled and haven’t learned these ideas before, I hope that it is helpful in how you think about yourself. If you are nondisabled, I hope you too can learn and find some of this content interesting. For most of us, we will become disabled at some point in our lives, so maybe try to think about these concepts as things that you might personally resonate with someday, even if you do not today.

This is a work in progress, and I welcome any input on what I have written here. I hope that this could be used as intellectual mutual aid to help other disability groups introduce folks who are interested to a primer on disability. I hope you enjoy!