Editor’s Note: This post was written by guest writer Devin Adams. She is a recent graduate from Penn State University, where she obtained both a Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Arts in Rehabilitation and Human Services and English respectively. She will be attending the National University of Ireland Galway to study International and Comparative Disability Law and Policy.
We Should Not Be Extraordinary — Shifting the Narrative about Disability and Success
Graduation is an exciting time for youth across the country. But as a recent college graduate who has a disability, I find myself discouraged by the tone of the media coverage about graduation and disability.
Too often we hear stories that perpetuate the idea that people overcame their disability, or accomplished great things in spite of their disability. This narrative is harmful.
I am not going to say my college years weren’t challenging or that certain things weren’t harder because of my disability. They were. But when disabled people are praised and celebrated for accomplishing things in spite of disability, it can send the wrong message that achieving what is typical is exceptional for disabled people in particular.
I’d rather see the media highlight gaps in disability inclusion and how broken our societal systems are, because those are the reasons why the achievements of disabled people can seem so incredible. Not every disabled person has the same resources, the same level of support growing up, or the same access. Levels of privilege exist within the disability community, and our time would be better served working to equalize that.
I’d also like to see the narrative change about how disabled people didn’t let their disability define them. What’s wrong with being a product of your lived experience? Nothing. Disability is not a negative, nor does it make someone lesser.
I have struggled for years to accept my disability. Sometimes, it is still a work in progress. I grew up in a world focused on finding a cure for my blindness – one that focused on my achievements as demonstrations of overcoming my disability instead of working with it.
In reality, achievement is a combination of luck, privilege and hard work. That’s why I would love to live in a world where we embrace our disabilities, where inclusion is the standard, and where our achievements are recognized in the same way as non-disabled people. That world can become our reality, but it will take work, and that work includes changing the rhetoric we use to talk about disability and success.