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  • Gonzalo Laje

International Day of Persons with Disabilities

International Day of Persons with Disabilities - December 3rd, 2021

The United Nations dedicates days to specific causes in order to raise awareness and educate the public. The United Nations declared December 3rd “International Day of Persons with Disabilities”. This begs the question, “What do we need to keep learning about disabilities and disabled people?”


Systems of oppression create hierarchies. Ableism suggests that able-bodied people are superior and more capable than disabled people. Disabled people are not inherently unable to do activities; rather, they are unable to do activities in ableist, narrowly prescribed ways and environments. Author and disability advocate Thee Sim Ling says it best: “Being disabled/having a disability could make certain things challenging, but it isn’t the disability that is causing the problem; rather, it is the unwelcoming and inaccessible environment that is challenging the person and not allowing them to do certain things with the same ease (and not in the same way) as able-bodied people..the environment around disabled people/people with disabilities disables them”.

Take, for example, my profoundly disabled kindergarten students. Many of them were wheelchair users who had difficulty grasping objects. It was not uncommon to encounter substitute aides that believed it was impossible that my students would be able to, for example, water a plant. “After all”, they’d ask, “weren’t they likely to drop the watering can if they couldn’t grasp it?” This is an example of an ableist mindset; it insists that there is a normal way to do things (that is, an able-bodied way to do things), and if you can’t do it the normal way, then you can’t do it. Ableism neglects to realize that there are multiple ways to complete a given task, and that access to the appropriate accommodations goes a long way. My students, for example, could use a switch activated button with a mount and clip attachment to grasp and manipulate the watering can in a way that made sense for their bodies.

Seeing is Believing...or is it?

When you google image search “disabled”, the first 40 pictures that show up are of wheelchair users. These results speak volumes and help to explain why the 10% of Americans who have invisible disabilities struggle to get the accommodations they need in order to access an environment or activity. Invisible disabilities significantly impact people’s daily lives. Examples include chronic pain, chronic fatigue, chronic dizziness, sleep disorders, diabetes, endometriosis, asthma, food allergies, fibromyalgia, bipolar disorder, depression, learning disabilities,, seizure disorders, and mental health disabilities. Invisibly disabled individuals are frequently questioned about the veracity of their disability, which compounds the difficulty they’re experiencing.

There is incredible power in being believed--and terrible pain in not being believed. The psychological impact of being believed cannot be underscored enough; it promotes felt-safety which starts the pinball effect of regulation and emotional healing on a neurological level. Please know that we at WBMA/SOAR recognize your disability--seen or unseen--and are honored to journey with you and help you advocate for the accommodations that increase your access.

- Article by Janelle McCarthy, LGPC

Keep learning from the #actuallydisabled authors below:

Further Reading:

Sitting Pretty: The View from My Ordinary, Resilient, Disabled Body Rebekah Taussig

Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the 21st Century Edited by Alice Wong


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