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BY ETHAN ELLIS
Advocate

Fall is the season for Disability Pride Parades. I’ve never been to one because the idea makes me uncomfortable, but this year I decided to go to the one in Trenton and take the family.

It would be a good experience for my son, Ethan James, who is valiantly coping with his schoolmates’ reaction to his having two parents with cerebral palsy. Janet and I would see old friends in the movement and I’d test my concerns experientially.

But I got sick at the last moment and we couldn’t go so I’ll have to sort out my concerns here where you get to watch and comment.

I get the impulse behind it. I was born with a disability and grew up believing something was wrong with me. That’s the message I got from most of the people I met: “Something’s wrong with you so it must be your fault.”

It took years to replace that shame with pride in myself and what I can and have accomplished.

I also understand that it might have been easier to get there if I had the support of others with disabilities, struggling with the same issue.

But now it’s me that I’m proud of, not my disability. Cerebral palsy is still a nuisance to an absolute barrier and everything in between, depending on the circumstances. The only thing about it from which I derive pride is my ability to overcome its limitations.

That’s quite different from the experience of those who celebrate Black Pride or Gay Pride.

They are celebrating aspects of their lives that elicit genuine pride no matter what others may think: belonging to great cultural tradition or celebrating a sexuality from which they are now free to derive guilt-free pleasure.

The other thing that bothers me about disability pride is its potential to divide, rather than unite.

While it may help some people overcome the stigma of growing up with a disability, it does little for most people who acquire
disabilities as adults and that’s most of us – 85 percent of us in fact.

I can’t imagine anyone being proud because they have arthritis or a heart condition or cancer, the top three causes of disability in this country.

Nor can I imagine it helping us unite politically with senior citizens, who make up more than half of people with disabilities here.

Finally, if you really think about it, there’s something really weird about a Disability Pride PARADE. Of all the things we can all do together with equal skill and grace, marching isn’t one of them.

While I don’t mind marching in protest or in support of something important to us all, I find the idea of putting the inabilities of some of us on display or excluding them altogether for a celebration, to be exclusionary and therefore disturbing.

Instead, why not pick a nice comfortable place and celebrate Disability Unity day or Disability Power Day? Inside the Statehouse can be real comfy.

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