By Christine @ChrisDisability
Superheroes are fighters, change-makers, leaders, and advocates. If that sounds terrifying or nothing like you, fear not. At one time in my life, I would have agreed with you. So, what’s the secret to going from shy and hesitant of a disabled identity, to a person who can’t shut up about disability issues?
There are a few things that led to this evolution.
It took me much longer than I’d like to admit to truly feel comfortable in my disabled skin. I have cerebral palsy, so there’s very little hiding it. You get teased and bullied — especially name-calling, have challenges finding people who can relate (and even more finding people who see you as equals, friends, or romantic interests), likely have battles with self-advocacy and accommodations, and regardless of your abilities, can be beat down to feel like nothing is good enough and you’ll never fit in here. If any of that sounds familiar, it was my childhood and adolescence as well. It is the story of many disabled people. Those of us born with our disabilities have been fighters since day 1. There is no other way you will have gotten here without fighting. That makes you super. I’ve also acquired quite a few medical conditions over the past twenty-eight years, so I’ve seen both sides – visible and invisible. You have to fight in very different ways when you become disabled. There’s the “convince someone this condition is disabling” fight, “adjust to the change in life,” fight, and the daily fights of managing a chronic condition. All of these fights as life adjusts make you super as well. Sometimes, just getting out of bed, or not needing an ‘as needed’ medication, can be a super feat.
Leaving high school, and the awkward teen years, was when I began to shed the uncomfortable feelings I had about disability. Branching out after high school and meeting new people forced me to get more comfortable with my disabled self, but the thing that made the biggest impact was meeting more people with disabilities and finding that community. I started volunteering with a local organization, assisting with clients while they expressed themselves through the arts. Not only was this a lot of fun, but also I was able to find a way to feel connected to my identity. Being around other disabled people, I was no longer the weird kid, but myself. I read a memoir by a woman with CP, and suddenly I wasn’t alone. I began to feel like I wanted to work on empowering other people with disabilities who felt like I had. That led me from special education assistant jobs to working with disabled youth. While working with the youth, I was able to learn more about how vast disability really is, and mentor them to achieve their goals. It was a wonderful experience to watch my youth grow and become more comfortable with their identities quicker than it took me. I continue to mentor a young woman to this day, and will for a very long time.
In addition to embracing disability, one of the most important realizations I came to is that I can lead or make changes without having to be loud and bossy. I think there’s a perception that leaders and change-makers have to act a certain way, and if they don’t, you can’t be a leader. Sometimes the quietest people have the most to say, and that was certainly me. One person is enough to be super and make an impact. It might not change the entire world, but you can change someone’s world. Changing one person’s world is enough to make the most shy, awkward person truly feel super. Once I realized that I could make an impact, I felt unstoppable. I use to engage in superhero change through AmeriCorps, but now, I use my leadership powers for advocacy and educating people about disability issues.
I’ve come to realize that my disabled identity is a superpower all its own. The way I view the world is through a lens of empathy and understanding. I don’t believe I would be as empathic and understanding if I didn’t have to live a life where I’m sometimes misunderstood. Life with disabilities isn’t always easy, but it is pretty great to realize that it comes with super powers.