July is Disability Pride Month - an occasion designed to end stigmas, raise awareness and encourage others to accept people living with disabilities as a natural, beautiful part of human diversity. It also coincides with the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act signing in 1990 - a major movement that you can learn more about in the recent Netflix documentary called Crip Camp!
Sadly, because of misinformation and misunderstanding, people living with disabilities are often not thought of as equals or valued members of society. Plus some people don’t want their disability celebrated, and certainly don’t have any pride in their differences. So to me, this event also highlights the personal journey many of us go through in order to become comfortable in our own skin. However, unlike this campaign, you can’t take a break from your disability, which is why it is important to raise awareness all year round!
I for one certainly didn’t feel any pride in my sudden health decline at the age of 18, which overnight destroyed my career, lifestyle and independence. I didn’t like having to miss out on social events due to the fact I was frequently in hospital, needed round the clock care and could only visit places with a disabled toilet! Worst of all, I needed to use a wheelchair. This thought alone was enough to make hide away from the world, but after being given a big black bulky contraption from my local NHS wheelchair services, I literally wanted the ground to swallow me up! As a result of this, I quickly became a shell of my former self and assumed I wouldn’t ever be able to enjoy life again.
I’m pleased to say that I eventually accepted my diagnosis (hence why I’m able to talk so openly today), but if it wasn’t for my families support, care and advocacy; my best friend who didn't treat me differently post-diagnosis; my partner Felix’s enthusiasm and my incredible assistance dog Fliss - I’m not sure where I’d be today. The combination of support allowed me to accept the fact I needed physical assistance in order to achieve a better quality of life. That a wheelchair would only make life a little easier now that my body no longer functions as it used too. Most importantly - that I can discover new passions and learn to laugh again. In addition to the newfound independence and fulfilment that Fliss brought into my life, I decided to replace my NHS wheelchair with a pink bespoke frame that not only perfectly met my needs, but also reflected my personality. It was from this point that I started to feel more confident when leaving the house. I suddenly had a desire to travel, socialise and relive some of my old passions by going to the theatre.
I am aware this is easier said than done, as the journey to acceptance is full of ups and downs. It can trigger a lot of anxiety, depression and a whole host of mental health issues. But if I can do it, anyone can! Just try to remember that everyone's experience will differ and that there is no right or wrong way - all that matters is that you don’t give up! Your future may look different from the life you once had, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find something to appreciate in everything situation, find happiness and live a fulfilled life!
Now if only society would be more accepting, inclusive and encouraging - because people with disabilities are blooming incredible! Why? Because we have to overcome so many challenges, must learn to navigate an ableist society and have missed out on pivotal life events such as going to prom, getting a job or moving out. We have lost friends and fell out with family because our conditions aren’t always understood. Our health is seen as a burden to address and can be downplayed by professionals. So for anyone reading this who does not have any experience or insight into the world of disabilities...