While many people see disabled people as someone to pity or feel sorry for, there are many people with disabilities who are proud of their differences, and see them as a source of strength in their lives. In fact, there is a Disability Pride Day held each year on July 26th – which coincides with the same day as the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law. People with disabilities now have a voice to advocate for their needs and have the independence that they deserve.  Below you will find the stories of two MHA interns, who talk about their disabilities – with pride!

Golda’s Story

Golda Duncan is an AmeriCorps Public Allies Apprentice, interning for MHA. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, a passion for the mental health community and wants to make a change.

How did you learn about your disability? At what age?

I was born with my disability (Cerebral Palsy) so I’ve known for a very long time that I’ve had to deal with it all my life. My parents were very supportive. I’ve had to go through occupational therapy, speech therapy and physical therapy. I think I fully understood when I went to elementary school, we would go to recess and I wouldn’t be able to run around with my classmates. They would have to come and play with me if they wanted to. Therapy has taught me so much so I can have an easier life as I got older. I’m very thankful for the education I had about my disability. Many people didn’t have the luxury to go through therapy to learn about their disability to make their life a little bit easier. So, I’m very blessed and happy.

What does Disability Pride mean to you?

Disability Pride means to be proud to be different and to be able to show people I can adapt through life regardless of what obstacles come my way. It also means I don’t have to be ashamed of who I am for my differences. I can celebrate every day and live my life the way I want by embracing my cerebral palsy. I have unique talents because of my disability. I may not be able to be like everyone else, but because I can move my way it makes it even better. I can also help others move if they have difficulties which is a great feeling. I take pride in helping others get the access they need to be able to live their everyday life.

Are there any images/quotes that represent pride or disability pride to you?

Yes, a quote that I love that represents disability pride is “A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles” by Christopher Reeve.  I love this quote because it speaks volumes. You have to stay strong in overwhelming times especially when there’s a lot of obstacles in your way and that’s what a lot of people with disabilities do.

What other identities are you proud of? Do they intersect?

My other identities that I’m proud of is being an African-American woman who is also in the LGBTQ community. They intersect by all being in the minority category. I also have to advocate for the rights of being African-American, being a woman, being a lesbian and being disabled all at once. I am proud of all of my identities. 

Jennifer’s Story

Jennifer Wendell is a recent cum laude graduate of University of Delaware with dual degrees in Human Services- Clinical Concentration and Sociology. She is currently interning with MHA, and hopes to become a helping professional in the mental health field.

How did you learn about your disability? At what age?

Because my disability has always been an inherent, integral part of who I am from a young age, I cannot recall a concrete, distinct moment where I learned about my deafness. Rather, my deaf journey consisted of countless moments where I slowly became hyperaware of my “differences” in the hearing world, and how others perceived my deafness.

One of my earliest memories of becoming hyperaware is when I was roughly six years old. During that time, I was frequently going to intense speech therapy, audiology appointments, and tutoring sessions during and after school. Coming home with daily headaches and exhaustion, I could not quite figure out why and felt frustrated and lonely. However, during that time, I had a supportive teacher who adamantly advocated for me, and tried to help me develop a sense of belonging and understanding. As such, she initiated a pen pal connection with someone who was also young and deaf. Through writing letters back-and-forth and sharing our commonalties, I began to realize our experiences and struggles were of those hearing people did not share. I began to make sense of how my deafness impacted my daily life, allowing me to feel less alone whenever I felt down about having headaches, listening fatigue and many other challenges. That teacher truly served as a major building block in my deaf journey by fostering curiosity and encouraging me to make sense of the hearing world from a young age.

What does Disability Pride mean to you?

To me, disability pride is a relatively new, ongoing journey that involves practicing self-love, learning self-compassion, advocating for myself, challenging ableism, reclaiming my deaf identity and being unapologetically me.

Disability pride is so important in a society that perpetuates barriers and difficulties finding acceptance and belongingness. With certain societal standards deeming me as less, embodying disability pride means reminding myself that I am simply doing the best I can. That my deafness is a strength rather than a weakness – that I have so much to offer. Inspiring me to confront my insecurities and self-criticism, disability pride gives me the confidence to live my life authentically.

Are there any images/quotes that represent pride or disability pride to you?

When I was eight years old, my paternal grandmother bestowed me a seemingly random poem book by Alice Burt. Upon investigating, to my astonishment, the author wrote a poem about me and my deafness. Turns out, my grandmother was friends with the writer, with whom she would speak fondly about me, sparking inspiration for the poem. At the time, I was struggling tremendously trying to accept my disability, and felt as if I was truly alone. And yet, when I first read the lighthearted, sweet poem, I could not help but beam a big smile and think to myself that maybe my deafness was not so terrible. Maybe I was more than just my disability. Maybe I was not so alone after all.

Whenever I think about disability pride, I think fondly of how a stranger’s kindness played a role in defining my deaf identity, and motivated me to view my deafness in a positive, even humorous light.

What other identities are you proud of? Do they intersect?

In addition to my deaf identity, I consider myself a mental health warrior and proud member of the LGBTQ+ community. As each identity adds complexities, joys and downfalls, my identities unquestionably intersect, creating a colorful mosaic. Each identity plays a significant role as I navigate through life as a young adult. There are times where I feel discouraged, uncertain and isolated. However, there are also times where I feel empowered, proud and assured. Each tribulation and accomplishment add to the mosaic of my life, creating beautiful, meaningful art that represents who I am today.