What disability pride means to me

The bus lurches to a stop. My feet dig into the floor as my upper body tenses, attempting to keep me in my seat. The driver shouts my stop, and I spring to my feet and arc my long white cane.

A hand grabs my elbow as I move to the door. I jerk my arm away. The hand grasps again.

I yank away. “I got it.”

Finally, a voice reverberates behind me. “I’m helping you.”

This masculine-sounding voice drips with confidence. I hear the hint of savior in the sonorous tone.

“I didn’t ask for help.” I speed up towards the door, my cane tapping to the side, looking for the opening.

“I’m helping you. You don’t have to be rude.”

My chest tightens, heart fluttering. “You grabbed me without permission,” I grind out. My cane slides down the first step, and I lift my foot.

Before I can step down, the hand whips out, seizing my elbow.

I reach out for a pole before snatching my arm back. I’m light-headed as I fly down the stairs. My breaths rush in-and-out, hands balled, teeth clamped together.

I plant my feet, legs slightly apart. My back goes rigid. “Don’t fucking touch me.”

“There’s no need for vulgarity. I’m just helping you.”

This is the day it all solidified. This is the day I realized I needed a community, a collective to fight these attitudes. For me, encounters like this happened daily; still do. Enough was enough.

My body is not an object to be parceled out. My disability and gender are not an invitation to be touched without permission.

And yet, most non-disabled people believe they have a right to latch onto my body, my cane, my belongings. I’m property.

July is Disability Pride month. I love the #DisabilityPride tweets on Twitter. It gives me a sense of a larger disability community out in the ether. It connects me with fellow activists, and I learn so much from them.

Alice Wong, Joanna No Banana, Sara Luterman, Rebecca Cokley, Imani Barbarin are just a few amazing disabled activist to follow.

Recently though, I’ve seen fellow disabled people question disability pride. And in some cases, not know what it is.

A post on Facebook asked why anyone would celebrate disability. They asked with low employment rates, low expectations and pushing against daily barriers, why would we celebrate disability?

Fair point.

But here’s what disability pride means to me.

Disability pride is a rewriting of the narrative. It is a movement redefining what it means to be disabled. It’s a collective voice shouting and demanding to be heard. Stating we are whole beings, capable of full humanity. It insists we be fully included, our similarities acknowledged, our differences embraced.

Disability pride places disability justice in the forefront, focusing on all the intersecting identities within disability. It empowers disabled people to embrace our own identities and force society to recognize us as complete humans.

It spits in the face of ableism. It allows me to reclaim my existence, shoving grasping hands away instead of smiling in seething gratitude.

It arms me with knowledge and confidence as the world tries to conquer my body, spinning a false narrative about my identity.

As a disability community, it also encourages us to accept the spectrum within the community. We are not a monolith, and we must respect and celebrate the differences in our own ranks.

I see disability pride as an opportunity to further change the narrative around disability. It informs my own activism. Dealing with ableism will never be easy. But devouring disability pride articles, learning from activist, I feel empowered.

As a disabled person, there’s so much to be depressed about. Even those of us who actively advocate, we don’t always have the spoons to cope. Some days, there’s a boulder grinding me into the ground.

Contrary to some schools of thoughts, disabled people don’t have to be ambassadors in our daily lives. We are not zoo exhibits on display for non-disabled entertainment. We are not curiosities to be cooed over.

I do not need to explain what I can and cannot see to my Uber driver.

Parents at my kid’s school don’t need detailed descriptions of how I take care of my boys.

I do not need to stop and engage in a polite discussion with the curious passer-byer about how I get around.

I’m a fucking human-being. Accept that I exist and can do shit.

There is a time and place for educating about disability. It’s not on the bus, or in the doctor’s office, or at the mall.

If you want to invite me to speak at a meeting, I will shove disability justice down throats until people are engorged with disability awareness. But until I’m engaged in some professional or formal capacity, leave me the fuck alone.

I’m learning the distinction between disability rights and disability justice. I’m expanding my own perception of disability, learning to consider how multiple identities intersect within the disability community. I’m moving in a current that has been a stream for far too long, but is now broadening its banks, recognizing all the intersectionality that has existed in this stream as well. Space is being made not only to include all identities but to bring equity in the disability pride movement, giving voice to all perspectives, not just straight, white, cis gender ones.

And this is what disability pride means to me.

And while you chew on this, keep your damn hands off me.

By Imperfection

Bridgit Kuenning-Pollpeter is a mom and writer from Omaha, Nebraska but recently relocated to Urbandale, IA. When she’s not chasing children, picking up messes or reorganizing the house, she enjoys yoga or reading to relax. In her spare time (A.K.A. her dreams) she’s a Broadway star. Kuenning-Pollpeter is a freelance marketer during the day, a creative writer at night. Her work has appeared in the Brevity blog, The Omaha World Herald, 13th Floor, Misbehaving Nebraskans, Hippocampus, Emerging Nebraska Writers and Random Sample Review. She has her BFA and MFA in writing from the University of Nebraska Omaha. Her essay “The Body” was a McKenna Fellowship finalist, and her essay “Imperfection” was a 2020 Best of the Net Nominee. She is blind and writes frequently about disability. She’s working on a memoir about the disabled feminine experience. With the kids though, expect it in stores in about a decade.

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