…now you don’t: Disability identity around campus and beyond
Forty years ago, hundreds of civil rights activists staged a month-long sit-in at a San Francisco federal building, the longest occupation in the nation’s history. This landmark protest shocked the country and opened the eyes of millions of Americans to the plight of the disabled community.
This October, it is important to honor disability history month by acknowledging the hardships these people faced and the sacrifices they made to better the lives of so many. But the struggle is not over.
Too many people with disabilities hide in the crowd, uncomfortable with the stigmas surrounding the label. At AHS, students with disabilities include friends, classmates, and acquaintances. Since many are not visibly distinguishable as disabled and also do not identify as such, it is important to consider what disability actually means.
According to Niyathi Annamaneni (11), disability is “a constant state that really hurts people’s capabilities and their abilities to achieve what they want to.”
Annamaneni went through a severe bout of obsessive-compulsive disorder a few years ago, which took the form of anorexia. Now that she has recovered, she is refocusing her efforts to educate others to prevent the circumstances that led to it.
“People always judge others without any background, which can lead to them being really mean and hateful,” she says, “That’s what I’m trying to change in the people around me.”
Rithvik Shah (10), on the other hand, has a different set of disabilities. His autism, for example, makes him sensitive to loud sounds. However, he works around that to enjoy his pastimes.
“I’ve always wanted to go to a Warriors game but I can’t because it’s way too noisy,” Shah says. “But I watch them on TV sometimes. They’re a really good team.”
There are many other students all across campus that have various disabilities, some quite visible but others not so much. Yet very few identify as disabled. This is because there are many stigmas associated with disability which make the designation appear undesirable.
“Disabilities are something not everyone … would want to face as a reality,” says Raylor Liu (11), adding that “fitting in” is a big reason for this.
Local disability rights activist Alice Wong agrees. The weight that the label carries seems grave for some who would rather deal with their condition privately.
“There’s deep shame and fear related to being disabled,” she says. “It’s the fear of being the outsider, the undesirable.”
Her organization, the Disability Visibility Project®, focuses on documenting the lives of people with disabilities and giving them a platform to express their views on disability-related issues. She hopes that her organization will help remove the stigmas around disability, so that people with disabilities will feel safer identifying as such.
“As … representation improves, I hope this will give permission to more people that it’s ok, in fact, ‘normal’ to identify as disabled.”
Rithvik Shah (10) discusses a math problem with his classmates. “Even though I’m disabled,” Shah said, “that doesn’t stop me from taking regular classes.” As is the case with Shah, most students with disabilities just blend into the classroom. Adapting to classmate’s limitations and treating them like everyone else is the best way to erase any discomforts, on their part or yours.
PC: Sanika Gavankar