A radical thought: we have the power to bring real pride to our community

By Red

When asked what #DisabilityPride meant to me, I responded with something of a shrug. I am just a person, doing my thing. I am a teacher. I have a family. And I use a wheelchair.

Equally, though, I am increasingly conscious of the need to do my part to ensure the disability community lives up to its name. Community implies cohesion and togetherness, and it’s fair to say that as members of this community, we haven’t always played our part to deliver on this promise.

We are fortunate enough to have found ourselves members of a diverse, wonderful community of people, and it’s important we recognise and celebrate that.

I’m a bit tired of sitting around waiting for the government to realise what we need - it’s time that we got out there and told them. It is radical thought, and radical people, which have the power to bring real pride to our community. 

And while I’m proud to be a member of this unique group, I’m decidedly not proud of getting caught up in the media’s stereotypes and caricatures of what it means to be disabled.

We live in a media landscape where the number of clicks or likes you get matters most, so the tired, cliche disability narratives around trauma, tragedy and triumph persist. Stories about disabled people’s lives are too often written about us, never for us. So when I first heard about #DisabilityPride Week my first question was: Who is the target audience? Because when people answer “everybody”, therein lies the quandary: “everybody” includes able-bodied people.

We need to be the target audience in a week that is about us feeling proud of our diversity. Everyone else is welcome to come along for the ride, but fundamentally, disability pride should be unapologetically exclusive: it’s about us, for us.

It’s also important to acknowledge the range of perspectives present within our community: we aren’t one homogenous group, despite how we might be presented at times. Pride is a loaded word, and just as we have a diversity of disability, we have a diversity of views on what it means to be proud.

We are so often told by the media and society that to be disabled is to be deficient, so the concept of #DisabilityPride is complex and fraught with tension.

One way we can overcome this tension, though, is by working to grow more collectively, by blocking out ableist messaging and being intentionally supportive of one another. For example, I totally missed the boat when Deaf Aotearoa was campaigning for captioning during the Leaders’ election debates. I was guilty of compartmentalising that as a Deaf issue, not an access issue or a disability community issue when in reality it was both of those things. This is something I need to work on, and I hope others embrace this challenge too.

Finally, a plea for radicalism. Pride is the result of accomplishment, of community action, of progress. And in too many instances, our community’s loudest voices are service providers: well-intentioned, often able-bodied folk who rely on income from the Government to stay afloat.

Yes, they have an important role to play, but by necessity, this approach is softly, softly. When you look at the history of civil rights movements, it is those radical people on the fringes – who are unapologetic about their views and their position – who make real change and nudge things forward.

I’m a bit tired of sitting around waiting for the government to realise what we need - it’s time that we got out there and told them. It is radical thought, and radical people, which have the power to bring real pride to our community.

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