Disability Thought Of The Week: Best Foot Forward vs. Radical Honesty

Icon of a white silhouette head with a word cloud inside containing words associated with disability thinking

One source of misunderstanding and conflict within the disability community is an apparent shift in how we as disabled people try to portray ourselves.

20-40 years ago, the conventional wisdom was that disabled people who wanted to succeed personally and further the cause of disability acceptance should project an image of strength, competence, and calm. The idea was that discrimination and inaccessibility were outgrowths of an assumption that we were sick, incapable, and emotionally messy. By "proving ourselves" we could prove these assumptions wrong ... basically winning the argument against ableism by our example.

Now it is much more common for disabled people to be open about our physical and emotional difficulties, and more blunt and frank about the corrosive effects of ableism. The more common message now is more complicated than it used to be. Fundamentally, we still view ourselves as capable and competent, but at the same time we are more willing to say "All is not well!" ... sometimes personally, and certainly in the broader social justice sense.

There's really not that much of a gap between these two approaches. We've always been fighting ableism, and we haven't given up on the idea that we can be vibrant, happy, contributing members of society. The main difference is that we tend not to value projecting an idealized image anymore. We are a little more willing to say how we really feel, and how things really are, even if it confuses and upsets others.

It is a different approach though. You can hear hints of an almost generational divide in conversations about disability these days. It's the difference between "best foot forward" and "radical honesty" approaches to portraying disability to the rest of society. It may cause conflict, but I think the dialog, and the shift, is productive.