Why I Say, “I Am Disabled” [A Response to People-First Language]

Dear Organizers Forum,

At the end of the call, I believe it was Josue who was saying that we need to be the ones to speak up and educate others about intersectionality. Yet, it’s not that easy. I can’t count the times I have been in a room with Disability activists and people are moving through an agenda, pounding out action steps or whatever and I have been sitting there trying to figure out a way to talk about how we could reach out or include the Latin@ community or poor people and feeling overwhelmed and exhausted before I even open my mouth. To bring up “including difference”, even in something basic like outreach is a process where from the moment one opens their mouth they cause discomfort. It’s not because people don’t want to talk about it. Often people feel uncomfortable because they realize they didn’t know they were leaving communities out or don’t understand about different communities and they feel bad. Sometimes there is resistance because discussing it will make an hour meeting a two hour meeting, etc. Whatever that resistance is, it usually succeeds in doing one thing – shutting intersectionality work down. 

Having those of us at the instersections, or who live in multiple worlds at once, in the room isn’t enough. It isn’t even enough for us to bring up or challenge the group on how we must connect with other communities. Besides being an unfair and exhausting expectation of us, we suffer the consequences of people’s defensiveness. When we open our mouths to speak-up or educate, the push-back can almost be counted on. Right or wrong, we realize that this is the price to be paid. However, I wonder how it would feel if people in the room were prepared and willing to be uncomfortable? If that willingness would allow us to all struggle together? That we could realize that to do intersectionality work is a commitment to being uncomfortable.

The next time you are sitting in a meeting, ask yourself if you are feeling comfortable. Do you understand all of the interactions and expectations? Do you understand everyone’s point of view or needs? Do you think you fully understand the needs of the community you are working with/for? If the answer to these questions is yes, then intersectionality work isn’t happening. Even if those of us “at the intersections” are in the room. 

I believe in the capacity of the Disability community to push further and make radical change, but to do this we need to start working from a place that is less secure and more open. We need to name the desire to do intersectionality work. We need this intention to be stated clearly at the beginning of every meeting and then when something inevitably happens that makes us uncomfortable, we need to challenge ourselves to not get defensive, but to stick with it, to stay open the best we can. This shift is as easy as – Notice you are feeling uncomfortable. Breathe. Ask questions. Risk being more uncomfortable. Listen and act on what you learn.

Comment in response to: January’s Call – ORGANIZER’S FORUM: Intersections of disability and other identities

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