On my birthday, I've been thinking about authenticity. I want this to be a year in which I am unapologetically and wholly myself. Part of that, is bound up with my identity as a disabled person. I don’t care if that makes you uncomfortable. I won’t hold your hand or explain why. It’s not a bad word. It’s just a word.
If you think the word disabled is inherently associated with a negative connotation, that says more about you and the work you have to do than my choice to reclaim a word historically disabled activists have chosen for themselves, a word rooted in our legal lexicon that describes the human and civil rights of having equal opportunity and access (even though, this reality is still unrealized, the language is important nonetheless.) A word that explains what it’s like to have a body that doesn’t always cooperate, that I can’t always control or predict. A body that requires braces, mobility aids, and support to move through the world.
As Imani Barbarian says, “It is not only a word that explains my body, but it also describes the ramps you refuse to build. It calls out the wages you refuse to pay. It shows the world the inclusion you are slow to produce. I think your discomfort with the word disabled doesn’t merely describe me, but you too. Because every time, I make you say it, it holds a mirror to your inaction and you’re scared to look yourself in the eye.”
Here’s to taking up space, to being unafraid to use mobility aids and supports, because I don’t have to sacrifice my body being in pain or uncomfortable for the abled gaze any longer. To self advocacy, unapologetically existing and being comfortable in our own bodies.
Sarah Martin is a 2023 graduate of the St. Paul School of Theology and Director of Young Adult Ministry at Impactok2. This article is slightly adapted, with permission, from a Facebook post.