I was just thinking about when I was applying to colleges. If I’m right about the timing, it would have been the fall of 1984 that I spent sorting through the application packages of the 5 colleges I chose to apply to, and working on those application essays. I really wish I still had copies of those application essays, but I don’t. I do remember that somewhere in the essay portion of each application, I talked about my disability.
My recollection is that I described my disabilities with only a moderate amount of detail. I then made some kind of statement that even though I had disabilities, I emphatically didn’t want to pursue any kind of career or even interest in disabilities in general. Essentially, I made as passionate a case as I could for avoiding becoming part of any sort of disability community. At that time, in my head, it seemed like an honorable, even heroic stance. And for what it’s worth, I got 4 college acceptances, including my first choice, so I guess nobody saw my writing about this and said “Yuck!”. Nobody in my high school years ever introduced me to another way of thinking about disability. I didn’t know anyone else with a disability. The only images and ideas about disability I was exposed to were either intensely medical … which bored me, and pitiable ... which of course I wanted no part of.
It wasn’t until the Gallaudet University student protests for a Deaf President, which took place during my Junior year in college, that I first started to absorb the idea of disability as a social issue, something like race and gender. That’s also when I first saw or heard of disabled people being bad-ass as disabled people, not as people overcoming or masking their disability. So really, what started to turn me around wasn’t any particular person or role model, and it didn’t come from an intentional process of education or persuasion … it happened because an event happened that had nothing to do with me directly, but which I felt connected to in a way that surprised me.
I wonder if this is still a common progression for young people with disabilities? Or, are there more opportunities now for youth with disabilities to learn about disability from different perspectives, and have earlier “awakenings” to their disability identities?
Disability life, ideas, identity, culture, commentary, and politics.