International Day of People with Disability: Embracing My Disability Identity

For those that don’t know, tomorrow is International Day of People with Disability. For some businesses, this is just a day that they can include on their calendar to tick the disability diversity box, however, some businesses are making real changes. For a person with a disability though, this day can be a time to reflect on their disability and their identity with it. So, what exactly does this day mean for someone with a disability and how do I identify with my disability?

Well, firstly disability and identity isn’t a new topic. There is a constant conversation on whether “people first” (person with a disability) or “identity first” (disabled person) language is better. Personally, I prefer “person with a disability”, because while I see my disability as part of my identity, I don’t see it as being all of me or defining me. It is just as much a part of me as my brown eyes or my love of fashion and horse racing.

What’s interesting though is that how I’ve identified with my disability, especially within the disability community, has changed over the years. It might come as a surprise, but a lot of my friends are able-bodied and more often than not, I’m the only person in a wheelchair. I’ve gravitated towards people who have a common interest (e.g. horse racing), rather than those who have a similar life (e.g. other wheelchair users). I guess that I’m lucky (if that’s the right word) that these people in my groups have accepted me (and my disability), and I get treated like everyone else.

This gravitation towards the non-disabled community has sometimes meant that I’m left in what I call a grey space. I don’t exactly fit the non-disabled mould, but then I don’t often have anything in common with the disability community (outside of my disability). It’s like having a foot in each world.

It wasn’t until I started to advocate for disabilities (even if it was accidentally) that I started to connect and identify with my disabled side more. I was always in the mindset that I didn’t want to be treated any differently because of my disability or given special treatment (no inspirational porn please!). I wanted to achieve things because I could do them. However, Instagram taught me that my disability was actually something that made me unique. It made my Instagram account different to other fashion accounts and it was in fact my business’ niche too.

Since embracing this side of me more, I’ve been lucky that doors filled with opportunities have opened all over the place, including one on Saturday that I can’t wait to share with you all. I’ve also connected with other people with disabilities via Instagram and seen just what a movement we can create when we combine.

For those that follow me on Instagram, you might have even noticed this shift. Before I wasn’t particularly a fan of wearing my ventilator mask in photos (haha the “sexy elephant look” for my long-time readers). I thought that my wheelchair was enough of a distraction in photos, and I preferred my face without it. However, with Covid, I started to wear it more at places like the races and I figured that breathing is better! Plus, it’s a part of me, so why not show it on Instagram? The Melbourne Myer Fashions on the Field competition was actually the first time I had competed in a FOTF competition wearing my ventilator and I’m not going to lie, it took a bit of confidence to do so. However, if I was going to put “disability” at the forefront of conversations and on the world stage (quite literally in this case), then I want to showcase all of my disability.

Are there still days where I’d rather not identify with my disabled side? Absolutely. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to ask different questions like, does my disability prevent me from finding my forever partner? Is my disability the only reason my Instagram has reached the heights that it has? However, no one can love every part of themselves every day of the year.

So, what’s the moral of this story? For people with disabilities, accepting and identifying with that part of themselves isn’t an overnight process. It can take years for them to fully accept all of themselves. Days like International Day of People with Disabilities, when celebrated in the correct way, can help to remind us that our disability is an important part of our identity and that we should embrace it.

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