After reading Jackson’s post about person-first language, I decided to steal his topic and throw in a new perspective.
You may or may not have noticed that I used the term “disabled people” and “people with disabilities” interchangeably. This is because I realize that different people prefer different terms depending upon how they identify themselves.
For me, I am a disabled young woman. I am not a young woman with a disability. I understand that the way I see myself is not politically correct, but I’ve never been politically correct, so I’m not worried. To me, if I were to say I am a young woman with a disability, it would make my disability seem like an accessory and I won’t undermine my disability like that.
I will never know if my loud, strong-willed, stubborn, and “disturbingly friendly” (thanks Ari) personality would be the same if I was not disabled. It is impossible to tell how much affect my disability has had on my personality, but I’d be willing to bet it’s had a huge affect.
Although I will never know how much affect my disability has had on my personality, I know for a fact my disability has had an amazing affect on my education and career. For starters, I have been an overachiever for a very long time so that I could prove to the rest of the world that sitting in a wheelchair does not make me stupid. Being ahead of everyone else academically was just one way for me to prove that although my walking skills are not that great, my other skills surpass the average. Additionally, I am currently a member of the Higher Education Opportunity Program, which basically means the majority of my $34,000 college costs are covered. To get into this program a person must come from a low-income family and be a minority. Thank God I’m disabled because simply being a poor white girl would not have covered $34,000! Because I am covered by this program, I was also able to study abroad in Ireland for a semester. This amazing opportunity would have never been possible if I wasn’t disabled.
Beyond my education, my career pretty much revolves on how cool being disabled is. First, as I’ve mentioned before, I work for the Center for Disability Rights as the Transportation Systems Advocate. My whole job revolves around making public transportation better for people with disabilities. I would have never been hired for the position if I didn’t have the experience of being a disabled person who has encountered both good and bad transportation systems. Second, I have been invited to present with Mobility International USA many times to talk about my experience studying abroad as a disabled student and encourage other disabled students to study abroad too. Third, I’m an AAPD intern! I am getting an experience of a lifetime working in Senator Harkin’s office. I never would have had the chance to be an AAPD intern without my disability.
Being disabled has never held me back; on the contrary, it has opened so many doors and propelled me forward. I am so proud to be a strong disabled young woman. I would not be the same girl without my disability.
For these reasons, and a million more, I cannot identify myself as a person with a disability. I cannot pretend my disability is just an accessory separate from me.
My disability is part of me and I wouldn’t have it any other way.