The following blog is a cross-post from the Disabled n’ Southern blog. The blog is written by IEL’s Center on Workforce and Development’s Jessica Queener.
It was 1995.
My high school peers were clapping because, for the first time, they were able to relate to me. I had just shared how my life has been impacted by my hearing loss.
It was 10th grade.
My health teacher had given us an assignment to write a paper and present on any topic related to health. I chose to do mine on hearing loss and deafness due to my personal history of having a severe to profound hearing loss. After my presentation, I opened it up for questions from my peers in the classroom. It was the first time my peers had been able to approach me and ask any question about my hearing loss without being worried about if they were asking the wrong question. I made more friends that day than I did in all the years I had been at school. In the days and weeks that followed, I noticed more of my peers coming up to me in the hallway saying hello as well as initiating conversations with me.
The wall had FINALLY fallen.
For far too many years, there had been this barrier between myself and my peers. In school, I had a few close friends but struggled to navigate larger cliques and social circles.
Why had I waited so long? Why didn’t I do this earlier in elementary and middle school?
Now, that I am older, I recognize that disability pride was not part of the school culture. I attended public schools in Tennessee and was included in the general education classroom throughout my school career. The mentality within the school culture was “one size fits all” rather than delivering personalized learning based upon students’ strengths, interests, and preferences. Not surprisingly, differences, in general, were not celebrated within the school. My perception from most adults (not all!) was that the special education label was not a badge of honor instead it was a badge of shame.
What led me to share my story?
By 10th grade, I had become involved with student government and politics which had given me confidence in embracing my differences. I had finally accepted this part of myself and so when the health assignment was given, I saw it as an opportunity to share my story. As a result, I had discovered my disability pride—a label that I was proud to wear.
Imagine a world where all schools are intentional in cultivating disability pride in their youth. So, until that world exists…
Your Story, Your Disability Pride Can Change Your World.
To learn more about advocacy and disclosure, check out these resources at NCWD/Youth: