The World Health Organization defines disability as an umbrella term that encompasses impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions that reflect the complex interaction between “features of a person’s body and features of the society in which he or she lives.” The Americans With Disabilities Act tells us that disability is “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” Since this category is broad and constantly shifting, exact statistics are lacking. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that one in five adults in the United States is living with a disability and The National Organization on Disability says there are 56 million disabled people. People with disabilities are thus the largest minority group in the United States. So, this New York Times essay asks, where is the pride movement for people with disabilities?
Pride movements can be considered the emotional components of the anti-discrimination and desegregation movements that asserted the rights of full citizenship to women, gay people, racial minorities, and other groups. Yet pride movements for people with disabilities have not gained the same sort of traction in the American consciousness. Why? One answer is that we have a much clearer collective notion of what it means to be a woman or an African American, gay or transgender person than we do of what it means to be disabled, given the scope of the definitions.
The essay goes on to explore disability growth areas as well as diminishing disabilities and how “most Americans don’t know how to be disabled.” Discussing disability in itself can be a fraught experience, sometimes stepping into a maze of courtesy, correctness, and possible offense. There is a new way of talking about disability and that is discussed here. This important essay is the first in a weekly series by and about people living with disabilities.