The ‘Lived Experience.’

By Adelyn VanTol-Wooden

January 23, 2017

What is Disability? I have no idea. This is something we at Disability Advocates have often heard from our executive director, Dave Bulkowski. I think many of us could agree with that sentiment. Disability does not fit neatly into boxes or make for a good messaging campaign. In fact, lived experiences in all of our lives are always quite messy and complex.

Part of the reason defining disability is so messy is because the disability identity includes such a large group of people and an immeasurable number of disabilities. I have the kind of disability and body that is “able to” travel, participate in long meetings, work long days, and fit into other privileged spaces. This may be very different from others in the community, so when I talk about disability I need to name the privilege I have in the disability community. I am able to write blogs and travel freely while others are locked up in prison, live in institutions or group homes, or not sure what will happen to them as their parents’ age. I know that those of us who “don’t look disabled” receive different treatment than those whose appearance is marked by disability. Privilege and oppression exist within the disability community, and as we build cross-disability partnerships we need to understand these binaries (a yes or no way of understanding disability) and do a much better job of lifting up the voices of those who find themselves as “outsiders.

Additionally race, class, gender, citizenship, sexual orientation, and other identities all play a role in how disability is experienced. When you look at the statistics of our criminal justice system, it is apparent how closely racism and ableism can be tied together. Definitions of ability have been shaped by cultural, gender, race, geographic location and time. While ableism impacts us all, it is impacts us all in very different ways.

It is my hope that this blog becomes a space where we can reimagine and transform how we understand what is included in the word disability, and therefore we need the voices of everyone.

So please call, email, comment below, or write us a letter – we want to include your voices.

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