You are here:

Get Proud By Practicing

Editor's Note: The following article is reprinted from Washington Blade, DC, July 20, 2007.

The ADA's (Americans with Disabilities Act) anniversary is Independence Day for "queer crips."

Years ago, I broke my nose one night en route to a "blind" date. Being visually impaired, I didn't want my (potential) Ms. Right to know that I used a white cane. Trying to pass, I banged into a post, running for a bus without my stick. This put a dent, so to speak, in my romantic encounter, but people tell me that my nose is "interesting."

Today, I wouldn't dream of not using my cane. Crossing the street, I point it at drivers when they try to turn illegally, when I have the right of way. At poetry readings, I enjoy walking to the podium with my stick, and then throwing the pages of my large print manuscript on the floor as I read.

"I'm crip, queer and a diva," I tell them jokingly. After a beer, I'm on the dance floor, knowing my tone-deaf, low-vision moves belong there as much as anyone's.

Along with increasing numbers of people with disabilities, I now have a sense of pride in who I am. Like others who are queer and crip, I'm "out and proud" about my disability and my sexuality. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 54 million Americans have some type of disability. Some of us call ourselves "queer and crip" to reclaim pejorative terms.

Like the concept of Gay Pride, disability pride has evolved, hand in hand with a civil rights movement (the disability rights movement).

Beginning in the late 1960s, disabled people, mainly in New York and California, but also in Washington, D.C., got fed up with being turned away from schools, turned down for jobs and barred from physically entering buildings because of their disabilities. They began to fight this discrimination. The late Hugh Gregory Gallagher, a gay man who had polio, was instrumental in getting the Architectural Barriers Act of 1968 passed.

Over the years, this battle became a nationwide struggle, culminating with the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. July 26 marks the 17th anniversary of the ADA, a civil rights law that protects people with disabilities from discrimination in everything from employment to public accommodations.

Though it's not known how many people are crip and queer, the ADA covers many in the gay community, including people with HIV/AIDS, recovering alcoholics and drug addicts and breast cancer survivors. Gay rights activists worked with disability rights advocates to get the ADA passed.

For me and many other crips, July 26 is our Independence Day. We think of our lives as being divided between the time before and after the ADA.

In the late 1980s, I was asked to leave a coffee shop one day. What had I done to merit being thrown out? Nothing. The owner thought that a blind woman eating a tuna sandwich would be "too depressing for the other customers." Then, I had no legal redress. Today, if this happened, I'd have the ADA.

As important as the legal protection that the ADA offers is the increased visibility of people with disabilities in the wake of the law.

And the sense of pride that being out provides.

On July 21, the fourth annual Disability Pride parade will be held in Chicago.

"In 2004, we expected only a few people," Yoshiko Dart, the grand marshall of the first Disability Pride parade told me, "but more than 1,500 people came! They sang and wore Pride T-shirts (showing a fist in a power salute)."

Last year, more than 3,000 people participated in the parade. This year, even more people will likely come to the parade from across the country. (For more information, visit www.disabilityprideparade.com.)

"Embrace yourself and be proud of who you are," is an important lesson that the disability rights movement has learned from the gay community, said William Stothers, a disabled journalist involved with a mentoring program for disabled youth called What's Next? in San Diego.

This sense of pride energizes us to be out--in the workforce, college campuses, bars and restaurants. People may not be happy to see us there. But once out, you're not going back in the closet.

It's not a perfect world. Discrimination still exists and being proud isn't always easy. But, as disability activist and lesbian poet Laura Hershey writes in her poem, "You Get Proud By Practicing": "You are the one/who can make you proud. /Just practice."

On July 26, I invite you to share our pride.

ZZ - Disregard this link; it is used to trick spammers.