This past week, I watched Crip Camp on my birthday in self-isolation. I had spent the morning crying on and off as I mourned the plans I had canceled and the current state of the country. It felt like none of it had mattered—none of the activism or advocacy had helped—because now, as the nondisabled were utilizing the accessibility that disabled people had long fought for, they were questioning our need to live while making use of our labor. To add to the pain, this particular birthday, my thirtieth, was meant to mark how far I had come and to bask in the independence I had worked hard for. Am I not supposed to cry about that?
Watching Crip Camp online with some friends was meant to fill me with a small fraction of the celebratory nature I had planned on experiencing for my “special day.” As I watched the documentary, though, I began to be filled with rage—not at the subjects of the film, but watching the 504 sit-ins unfold juxtaposed against the background of self-isolation as a result of federal incompetence and how the coronavirus response painted disabled people as disposable. I thought we were getting somewhere. We have disabled folk holding public office, more representation than ever, and we’re finally remembering our history with films like Crip Camp—and now people are questioning whether we should be allowed to live.
Who the fuck do these ableds think they are?
Now that they’ve made concerts accessible, now that happy hour means we can meet up virtually, now that work and school can be done at home—NOW is when you paint disabled people as disposable? Now that you reap the benefits of what disabled people have been fighting for for decades—now is when we shouldn’t exist?
But, as the documentary shows, this is nothing new. The nondisabled have been trying to dictate what our “quality of life” should look like since forever. It took years of activism, weeks of a sit-in, the help of the Black Panther Party, trips in the back of trucks because there wasn’t accessible transportation, stopping traffic and sustained pressure on the nondisabled to move leaders to ensure disability access and rights.
And still, we have to fight—constantly, because even though we won those rights, no one was willing to ensure they are enacted without the work of the disability community.
So, as disabled people, we have to ask ourselves: “who the fuck do we think we are?”
We are the beneficiaries of the hard-fought disability rights movement. Just because we have won some battles and made progress does not mean we too are not called to take the baton and raise hell ourselves. We are exhausted, but that what our community has been about: calculating our strengths and stepping in where we can.
No one, other than us, gets to determine what our “quality of life” looks like. No one gets to put up barriers to the lives we want to live because of our diagnosis (or lack thereof). No one gets to tell us our lives aren’t worth it. Disabled people have shut down entire cities by blocking traffic. Disabled people have commandeered politicians’ offices for weeks on end. Disabled people have named and shamed those in the way of accessibility and inclusion. Disabled people have gotten laws passed ensuring our human rights.
So, who the fuck do I think I am?
I am a child of the disability rights movement. As I celebrate my 30th year, so does the Americans with Disabilities Act. I am a beneficiary of the work of those that came before me, but that doesn’t mean that work is nearly finished. If the current pandemic is any indication, that work is far from over.
I am of a value immeasurable by the narrow constructs of capitalism. I am a fight they are incapable of taking on. I am of the same vulnerability that forces the ground to yield into curb cuts and ramps.
The spirit of disability activism within me could make the world stop completely.
I will not go away. I will not accept their judgments about my life. I will not allow them to throw me away. I am no one’s sacrifice to the market (don’t they know they can’t sacrifice me to save themselves, the virus wants us all). There aren’t enough dollars in the world to cover my worth.
I am disabled, not disposable. I am disabled, not expendable.
I am disabled, and like those before me, I’m ready, willing and able to give you the fight of my fucking life.