When my psychoanalyst told me some years ago that my borderline personality disorder was a disability, my first reaction was to be offended. In my closed mind, it was impossible to consider that a person with two arms and two legs could think of herself as disabled.
I had to spend many hours on the couch to understand that my disability — understood as a continuous pattern of moods, self-image, and unstable behaviors — does not mean a “minus” in my life but a uniqueness.
July is observed as Disability Pride Month in several places around the country, including Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and San Antonio. It commemorates the day that President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law on July 26, 1990. This landmark law banned discrimination against people with disabilities nationwide.
According to America’s Disability Community, this month is an opportunity to honor the uniqueness of each person as “a natural and beautiful part of human diversity.” It’s about setting aside “special needs” and pejorative compassion.
It’s about raising awareness of ableism and discrimination disguised as “pity” that has imposed unnecessary obstacles for centuries.
A look into the past
As is often the case in human history, disabilities are not a new issue. In fact, they were treated relatively normally until, not surprisingly, the advent of the church.
In ancient Greece, for example, there were permanent stone ramps that allowed visitors with mobility problems access to temples and healing shrines.
During the Middle Ages, insanity and other afflictions were thought to be caused by demons.
Between asylums, clinics and prisons, the European enlightenment made the disabled an object of study — leaving the human behind in utter oblivion.
Between the 18th and 19th centuries, it was the development of the medical sciences that led to the “homogenization” of human attributes into what the Belgian statesman and sociologist Adolphe Quetelet called “the average man.”
From this arose the fear and tyranny of difference, which would lead to the eugenic practices of the late 19th and mid-19th centuries.
By all accounts, difference was intolerable.
It was not until the early 1970s that activists began to question the way society treated the disabled, as well as the medical approach to disability.
Despite decades of activism, it was not until December 2006 that the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) established guidelines for advocating for the rights of disabled individuals.
The United Nations defines disability as long-term physical, mental, intellectual, or sensory impairments which, in interaction with various barriers, may hinder a person’s full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.
This was the first comprehensive human rights treaty of the 21st century and entered into force on May 3, 2008.
According to the World Report on Disability, 15% of the world’s population, or 1 billion people, are affected by a disability, visible or invisible.
Celebrating Disability Pride Month
The problem? Visibility.
Celebrating Disability Pride Month is more important than ever when it comes to making diversity visible. It’s a matter of promoting acceptance and educating others about the fact that disability is more than a diagnosis.
This month it is crucial to make noise, participate in virtual events, and share stories on social media that will change once and for all the outdated perception that people with disabilities don’t belong.