When I first sat down into the wheelchair I did so with a sense of gratitude. I had been in intensive care, I'd had two surgeries, I'd been told before the first of two that I probably wouldn't survive the operation. The journey I was on, I thought had ended. So not walking, as compared to not living, well it isn't a competition really. And though people say, 'I'd rather be dead than in a wheelchair,' I can tell you, for me, the one is better than the other.
Yes, since then I've started this blog and since then I've documented frustrations, prejudices and assumptions that I battle against. I've documented the energy it takes to go out into the community knowing what I'm going to face and knowing the implicit hostility that will exist in interaction after interaction. I've documented my own journey into self acceptance and self awareness as a disabled person and as a person who wants to live 'the examined life.' But even with the negative aspects of the social role of having a disability and the fact that things, once simple, are now complicated, I travel to Chicago to celebrate the disability community and the pride I take in membership in that community.
I am aware that others do not feel this way.
I do not argue with their experiences and understand that what I'm saying may ring falsely in their ears. My experience is mine, theirs is theirs. Both are real. Both need respecting. As a young gay man, I couldn't understand an older man's hatred of his sexuality and what it had done to his life. Cast out from family, cast out from faith, cast out from a job he loved, he saw his world as destroyed by his sexuality. He spent Gay Pride Day drunk, alone, and angry. I didn't understand why he couldn't embrace the idea of pride. I do now. As I young man I thought, as many young people do, that I knew how others should feel, I was so wrong.
So I am aware that others do not celebrate the disability community and see that pride in the life one lives with a disability as a sham.
My trip to Chicago and the Disability Pride Parade is important to me both personally and professionally. I am excited to have those with intellectual disability, those who have lived shamed, those who have lived locked away, experience the ultimate joy of self acceptance and be able to proclaim loud and proud that they claim and own their own freedom. More personally, I want to be there, as a disabled man who stumbled out of a catastrophic illness and into a world made ready for me by the disability community. They did not know me, but they anticipated me. They fought for accessible workplaces, and I have one. They fought for cut curbs, and I can get around. They fought for wider aisles and broader horizons. They ramped the future that I would live in. I thank them.
I do not wish to take for granted the advances made, before I would need them, by those who saw 'community' when others saw tragedy. Around me I see walkers and scooters and canes. Around me I see adaptive devices and accessible transit. I see the wheelchair symbol on places once thought impossible. I ride the subway, I get on buses. All of these things represent victories of a community that cared enough to fight, and fight hard, so that those who came after would have lives of greater quality.
My life has been affected and influenced by people I will never meet.
On Saturday, in the Pride parade, I want to say 'thank you.'