Disability Pride month is a rejection of internalised shame, and an invitation to wider society to rethink the ways they define and conceptualise disabilities. It also draws attention to the very real ableism that continues to impose legal, societal and psychological barriers on Disabled communities.
Disability justice involves an intersectional approach. Certain groups, such as migratised and racialised communities, are disproportionately affected by disability and by specific stigmas surrounding disability or obstacles to getting support. Sanctuary seekers are often debilitated and disabled by war and conflict, whether psychologically or physically or otherwise. Queer people, in particular QTIPOC (Queer Trans Intersex People of Colour), are disproportionately affected by mental health problems. We must think about the ways that class status intersects with, and hinders, access to adequate support and therapy. We must also consider the ways that capitalism has contributed to the prevalence of depression and anxiety, burnout and other disabilities.
As someone who lives with a variety of mental health disorders, such as OCD, anxiety, body dysmorphia and dermatillomania, I haven’t always been aware of Disability Pride Month. But I think it is a necessary and beautiful thing.
I have personally experienced ableist gaslighting, where I am made to feel like I am the problem, as opposed to the world around me being the problem. I have been made to feel like a burden, like I am “too much”, simply for existing, or simply for asking that I be treated with compassion. I have been made to feel ridiculous for demanding more than the bare minimum. And I have been left full of rage and disgust after seeing those who mistreated me suddenly claim to care about Disabled people. My personal experience of ableist gaslighting also informs my anti-capitalist views. Capitalism labels disabled people as economically unproductive, and so they are treated as “disposable” and unworthy of respect because of this. In our world, money always takes precedence over people’s lives, well-being and safety. And this money-obsessed mentality dictates society’s appalling treatment of Disabled people.
Being a migrant from a West Asian background, I have also experienced the specific ableism that is fuelled by the “model minority” myth: the fact that we just have to keep going. That is what the older generations of my community had no choice but to do. Because of this, I have been misunderstood, and have been made to feel “lazy”, like “a failure”, or like I am overreacting.
The fact that I have a disability doesn’t mean that I understand what it is like to live with a different kind of disability, and I have been ignorant towards or misunderstood other kinds of disability in the past. Even when I was younger, I had internalised ableism to the point that I was ashamed to have mental health issues, and I wanted to keep it a secret. It is so easy to internalise ableism, and then project it on to other disabled people, since we have all been brought up surrounded by it. But we can all do better, myself included! As with all social justice movements, it is a lifelong journey of commitment. Disability justice doesn’t require perfection: it requires humility, accountability, and a willingness and openness to learn from one’s mistakes.
The medical model frames disability as an “issue” existing within the individual that needs to be “fixed”. Truly understanding disability involves moving away from the the very narrow medical model of disability, towards the social and holistic models of disability.
For instance, some disabilities (such as mobility or sensory disabilities) can be better understood through the social model of disability. The social model of disability understands that it is society that disables people, and that the world needs to be fixed.
However, many disabilities (such as dermatillomania) are better understood through the holistic model, which integrates elements of the medical and social models.
Ultimately, we need to shift our understanding of disability and shift the way the world treats Disabled people and disabilities. A world where Disabled people can thrive is a world where people are respected as they are.
by Anastasia Gavalas
References + Resources:
For more information about the social model of disability, click here.
For more information about Identity-First and People-First language, aswell as the social model of disability, click here.
For more information about Alternative Text/Image Descriptions, click here.
For more information about disability and capitalism, click here.
To access the Mental Health section of our Know Your Rights Guide, click here.
To access more information and support, visit Scope’s website here.
Stay tuned, and if you want to share your story, then get in touch by emailing [email protected]