As a child, I never even knew the ‘International Day of Persons with Disabilities’ existed.
Shocking, isn’t it? But it is true. I’m not sure how much it would have mattered to me either if I’d known about it when I was a child. Back then, disability was a dirty word to me, a bad thing.
I was convinced that my life would become better only I somehow got “cured”. Of course, it goes without saying that I didn’t have a community to celebrate it with, either, considering that I lived amidst nondisabled people who all thought disability was perhaps the most horrible thing to happen to me.
Time passed. I slowly began to become aware that misconceptions and a lack of accessibility were responsible for most of the problems I faced as a disabled woman. And yes, I slowly realized that such a day exists. But for a long time, I never really understood the possibilities of celebrating such a day. At that stage, I only ever used it as a platform for creating awareness. My first ever online article, in fact, was published in honour of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.
Now, however, the possibilities are endless, and I have finally come to realize that. Now, I celebrate the day, not just use it to create awareness. After all, I have the rest of the year to educate and create awareness.
Today is much beyond such considerations. Today is a day of unadulterated joy. A day when I celebrate a part of me that I love (much to the bafflement of others). Today is the day I celebrate diversity, and reaffirm, to myself and the world, my right to live in this world as a disabled person. Today is the day for disability pride. Every day is the day for disability pride, indeed, but today more than all other days, I remind myself, and the world, that I am proud of myself.
It is not the day I “accept” my body as it is. Acceptance always felt like a loaded word to me, a word indicating a sort of reluctance, a tinge of resignation, as though I had no other choice. But no! I do not accept my body, I feel pride in it, and I celebrate it. Today is the festival of sorts, if you will, a symbol of that celebration.
Today is also the day to celebrate the disability community. The day I honour all those who have come before us and take a moment to acknowledge those who stand with me. The community has played a very important role in helping me become who I am today, and today is the day to acknowledge that. They understand the joy, the pride and the celebration, in a way that non-disabled people are not always able to. They are my community.
They showed me the way to disability pride (through their writings, art, activism, research and more) when I was lost. Today is also the day I make a commitment to myself to pass the baton to the next generation, the way it was passed on to me.
Above all, today is the day I tell the world “I’m here! We’re here! And no matter what you do, we’re here to stay and thrive!”
This article is written by JAF volunteer O. Aishwarya, who is a research scholar at IIIT B.