Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Standing in the Intersection

Home is not where you live, but where they understand you.
Christian Morganstern

I just had the best week ever! I attended the Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities in Illinois (CCDI) annual disability rights conference here in Springfield IL. It is my favorite three days of the year. I look forward to it and enjoy it more than the 4th of July, Thanksgiving, and Christmas all rolled into one.

About 400 people with disabilities across the state come together to learn, play, and fight for our rights (and occasionally with one another).

I feel at home there. I have grown older with many of them. We've fought battles and supported one another for a long time. We're a little less crazy than we were; we leave the parties first now; our "hook-ups" are not as sexually charged as they once were. We now watch the young ones feel the music and booze course through their bodies, only occasionally getting out on the dance floor to "show 'em how it's really done."

While I sound nostalgic for the good old days, I am not. Today I feel supercharged about the many young people at the conference. They were "on-fire" with enthusiasm, determination and expectations. My spark grows brighter when I am with them.

For many, it was their first opportunity to be in a crowd of people with disabilities. One young woman summed it up like this: "who knew there were so many people just like me like me?" She felt at home too; maybe for the first time. During our march on the state capitol building, past the statues of Martin Luther King and Abraham Lincoln, she yelled her chants louder than anyone and pumped her defiant fist in the air as strongly as any Olympian. I swelled with pride for one of our own.

It's a diverse crowd of people sliced anyway you want: by ethnically, age, gender, sexual orientation, and of course, disability. It's the tie that binds us together... and I love it.

Now I stand at the intersection of the best week ever, and the 37th disability blog carnival addressing disability identity, culture and pride, thanks to Ms CripChick. I get the opportunity to analyze what I just experienced.

First and foremost, I am very hopeful about our movement after attending the conference. I kept thinking about Margaret Mead's famous quote...

A small group of thoughtful people could change the world.
Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.

Changing the World

Really, that's what our coming together and building a cultural identity is all about; whether it's a wheelchair rugby match or an ADAPT Action or my beloved CCDI Conference, it's always political.

A major reason to have a disability identity exists to redress grievances. It allows us to:

  1. Identify ourselves in the way we choose, not by society.
  2. Determine the language that defines us.
  3. Defend ourselves against attacks on our community's honor or dignity;
  4. Address the very real pressure against the interests of our community; and
  5. Gain advantages others enjoy.

There are probably more reasons too; but for me, it is the civil rights aspects of our cultural identity that are critical to our success as a people.

Disability Pride

Pride in our disabilities begins when we see people like us, who do not define themselves by cultural stereotypes, and we begin to see ourselves as having value.

Disability Pride grows when people abandon the medical terms that previously defined them and service delivery systems that patronize them. It grows when they understand the barriers they face are not personal failures, but systematic political disenfranchisement.

Disability Pride is the result of collective action as well as individual achievement. We are building a disability nation, a home for ourselves, a place of understanding and support.

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