I identify as nondisabled. That’s a choice I make very intentionally.
I have bodily conditions that some might call “a disability.” I have experienced depression and anxiety on and off throughout my adult life. I have sleep apnea and, as a result, am protected by the ADA when I travel due to my need to carry medical equipment. I have taken medication to help me focus as a result of mild ADD. I have a mild neurological condition that comes and goes and occasionally causes tremors.
But I don’t consider myself Disabled. Not because I would not want to be identified as a Disabled woman. In fact, if I were, I’d embrace that identity and take pride in it. Claiming an identity as disabled would in fact be an advantage to me in the work that I do. But I don’t consider myself disabled because I don’t experience, as a result of those bodily conditions, “the loss or limitation of opportunities to take part in society on an equal level with others due to social and environmental barriers.”
Since the above definition is how I think of disability, it would run counter to that definition for me to claim this identity. I recognize that just having a condition that some might call a disability and that under some circumstances might require an accommodation is not the same as the experience of disablement. I was motivated to share these thoughts because I think others who work as professionals in fields such as disability services choose to identify as a person with a disability without recognizing that as problematic.
We are pretty clear that if there is an effort that impacts women, we want women at the table. In matters that relate to racial diversity, we do not want white people speaking for people of color. We would not want a parent of a gay child speaking for the LGBTQ community.
Yet, when it comes to Disability, who is invited to the table becomes all too flexible. Parents of disabled children are often listened to by legislators and others despite the fact that their perspectives of disability may be considered patronizing and problematic by disability activists. Professionals are often asked to be the voice of disability. And rarely does anyone recognize that this is a problem.
Now some professionals who are asked to speak on behalf of people with disabilities may experience a bit of discomfort because they know on some level that “nothing about us without us” means they should be inviting Disabled people into the conversation. So a way out of this dilemma, it seems, is to claim that the experience of having a bodily condition gives them the status of being a Disabled person. Boom. Problem solved.
But when someone takes a seat at the table, that is a political act. And if they are taking a seat away from someone who is Disabled…that is oppression. So when someone who experiences mild bodily conditions decides to buy privilege within the disability community by claiming disability identity, that is also a political, oppressive act.
So I identify as nondisabled. I will certainly speak out and will work to use my nondisabled privilege to improve access, challenge the dominant narrative of disability and remove barriers. But I will make sure when I do speak up, what I say is informed by the education I’ve received from Disabled activists. And I’ll make sure that the seat at the table is reserved for those who actually experience disablement.