Pride is the last thing associated with disability. To society at large, disability is unfortunate, undesirable and one of the worst ways to live.
Inflicting disability is the key ploy in the revenge plans of men who have been rejected. In Uttar Pradesh, with the proposed Population Control Bill, an elected state government has endorsed the view that disabled individuals are at best incomplete. Section 15 of the bill says that two-child norm will not apply if one of the two children has a disability. Then there are stereotypes about disability being the result of karma or a tool for theological salvation.
July is when countries celebrate disability pride. But in India, disability pride is yet to find a place in the national vocabulary despite a new surge in interest about disability rights and conversations about accessibility.
What has pride to do with something to which society reacts adversely? How can there be conversations about disability pride when many individuals with disabilities refuse to accept and acknowledge it? Three decades of disability pride have given some answers.
The Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in July 1990. Disability pride is celebrated in July to mark the passage of the act. In 2015, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio declared July as Disability Pride Month.
According to the website Disabled World, disability pride is defined as, “Accepting and honouring each person’s uniqueness and seeing it as a natural and beautiful part of human diversity.”
It lets individuals express pride in their own ways because every person experiences disability in different ways. Disability pride helps create a sense of community, which is important for disabled individuals struggling alone or facing social exclusion. Pride about disability shifts the focus from self-loathing to identifying ableism as a source of denying dignity.
The life stories of disabled individuals were narrated by non-disabled individuals. An outcome of this was that the disability itself was narrated in ways often at variance from the experiences of the disabled individuals.
In these narrations, disability was not something that a person could make a part of their identity or have pride in. These narratives pushed the idea that individuals with disability should make an attempt to be a part of the non-disabled world by erasing their disabled self.
Disability pride month is an attempt by persons with disability to reclaim their identity in their terms. It treats disability as an essential part of one’s identity and places it on equal footing with other identities that individuals occupy. This is contrary to the notion that disability is treated is a flaw and something detached from one’s identity.
In constructing this identity, persons with disability are aware of the challenges they face every day. Living as a person with disability can be challenging and even exhausting. This can be due to several factors, from inaccessible environments to the demands of physical or mental conditions. Disability pride is an assertion that it is possible to love a life with disability. It is a transformation from self-pity to self-love and making oneself comfortable within disability culture.
Celebrating disability pride also has many societal benefits. It creates the space for individuals left out of legal definitions of disability to express their identity on their own terms. For individuals with conditions such as chronic pain, disability pride month is a chance to speak up about how their condition has shaped their identity.
Disability pride month also calls attention to individuals with invisible disabilities. Notions about disability often fail to account for individuals with invisible disabilities who grapple with societal judgment. Disability pride month calls for re-imagining notions about disability and is a reminder that disability can come in all shapes and sizes.
Individuals who acquire a disability midlife often express a refusal to acknowledge their disability and are saddened by the prospect of being identified as a person with disability. The celebration of disability pride and its public visibility can help these individuals with self-love and acknowledge disability with all of its accompanying challenges. Those who accept and acknowledge disability are better placed to engage in productive activities and increase their life chances.
Helping create an identity for persons with disability opens up the possibility of an intersectional movement towards social justice. A movement based on multiple prides can demonstrate how marginalised sections are united by structural exclusion and the denial of dignity.
Disability pride is a reminder about human diversity and the need to celebrate it. Celebrating this pride is a way to challenge hierarchical notions about the value of different human lives.
Technology and inclusive policies can be key to improving the life chances of persons with disability and empowering them. If the goal is to evolve into a society that does not treat disability as undesirable and persons with disability as unfortunate beings, India should take disability pride and culture seriously.
Tony Kurian is PhD candidate in the department of Humanities and Social Science at IIT Bombay. He is a person with a disability. His twitter handle is @mtonykurian.