The title is, of course, disingenuous: I have absolutely zero idea of what ‘disabled people’ do because we are myriad, more than a quarter of the population. I would not presume to speak for billions. What I will do is speak for myself and talk about what I, a disabled person, do.
Why do I want to do that, why flaunt my disability? Because July is Disability Pride Month. And while lots of people yell and scream and preen and beam for Gay Pride—I did too, back in the day (my first Pride March was London, 1979)—Crip Pride isn’t yet a massive, corporate-sponsored institution.
The thing about Pride, though, is that it’s complicated. Just as without heteronormativity there can be no queerness, and—if you subscribe to the social model of disability, as I do—without ableist culture no disability, without shame there would be no pride.
Shame is baked into Otherness; many of us struggle with it at some point, no matter how fleetingly. The lucky ones among us get past it. So, yes, pride as a notion can be problematic. But as one tiny step towards dismantling the shame monolith that looms over so many of us, I thought I’d talk a bit about life as a crip—and along the way perhaps make disability seem a bit less exotic and/or scary for you nondisabled folks. Kidding! I’m not doing it for nondisabled people at all. I’m doing it for me and mine: I’m going to trumpet and celebrate all the good, fine and fun things I do despite the world actively conspiring to shove me and those like me out of sight.
First of all, I drink beer! In public, for all to see! A lot of beer. Probably more than is strictly necessary. Because I really like it. (Yes! Crips enjoy doing things that aren’t the extra special best things for their health.) I go to pubs and enjoy pints of Guinness with friends. (Yes! Crips have friends!)
Image descriptions: Top—a big old pint of Guinness on a pub table by a window that looks out onto a sunlit neighbourhood street. Bottom—Three white women at a pub table. The one on the left (Nicola) has short fair hair and sits in a wheelchair and holding an almost empty pint of Guinness. The one in the middle is standing with her arms around the shoulders of the other two. The one on the right is sitting. The table is littered with empty glasses. They are all grinning.
I also go out to restaurants, and enjoy lunches and dinners and cocktails with friends—different friends, because crips have many friends! Because, yes, some crips like good food and fabulous wine; some crips can afford to eat in fine-dining establishments and drink in hip cocktail bars. (Though sadly some crips always forget to take pictures of these things, sigh.)
And those pubs and restaurants and bars aren’t just in the US, because, hey, some crips travel, too, flying across the Atlantic First Class when times are good.
So how does this crip afford to flaunt her disabled self in First Class and among the Great and Good in tony hotel bars? She earns money! How does she earn money? By writing fabulous, multiple award-winning, optioned-by-the movies, zillion-times translated novels!
Image description: A short-haired white woman (Nicola) in grey suit jacket and black turtleneck and pants sits in a wheelchair with a book open on her lap and a pen poised to write something while looking at someone off-camera and waiting.
I also perform. In public. For entertainment (mine as much as yours) and profit (almost wholly mine—certainly not yours).
Image descriptions: Top—Nicola in a wheelchair on a stage, speaking out to the audience, some of whom are visible at lower right. Bottom—Nicola in headphones, sitting on a stool with her wheelchair in the background, in front of a complicated microphone set-up and reading stand, sipping camomile tea from a white mug.
How do I get to these events? In my very own wheelchair-adapted Honda Odyssey GT—with an 11-speaker sound system, full navigation package, and luscious leather seats—with hand controls. Because this crip at least refuses to be reliant upon the kindness of strangers or be pushed around like a sack of potatoes; I’m lucky enough to be able to move under my own power, and in style.
Image description: Nicola sitting at the wheel of her adapted vehicle with right hand on an electronic steering knob and left hand on a push-rock brake/accelerator.
And how do I do that? In a piece of cutting-edge technology: a supercool all black ultralight, motion-assisted manual wheelchair. It’s such a sleek and enviable piece of tech that the most discerning creatures on earth—cats—try to claim it for their own.
Image description: a tabby cat curled up fast asleep on a sleek, all-black wheelchair standing in front of a sunlit orange wall.
I also draw a bit, and play the ukulele occasionally—though not in my wheelchair. I drink wine in the evenings with my sweetie, sitting in the sunshine among the flowers on the deck of our lovely house. Yes! Crips deserve and often have love! Crips deserve to enjoy sunshine and flowers—they even choose the flowers and buy the flowers and plant the flowers! They deserve to and sometimes do live in lovely houses!
Image descriptions: Top—a photo of garden taken through a living room window. The window is framed by hanging red roses and the rest of the garden is a riot of colour: green, blue, purple, red, pink and white. You can almost smell the fragrance.
And you know what else I do? I fight. Crips are nobody’s pawns, objects of pity, or icons of inspiration. Sometimes we have tempers, don’t give a shit, are unwashed, slothful, and happy so to be. Sometimes we are shameless.
Image description: Black and white blurred photo of Nicola in a wheelchair at the boxing gym, wearing MMA gloves and pounding the shit out of a heavy bag, while her instructor—also in a wheelchair—looks on.
If you want to know more about any of the disability stuff I’ve mentioned, go read some of the other posts, essays, and speeches on the subject:
- Coming out as a cripple—including an explanation of the social model of disability
- Lame is so gay—a rant about ableist and homophobic language
- My new wheelchair van—what it is and how it works, in great detail
- SO LUCKY wins the Washington State Book Award—why I was surprised
- Recording the SO LUCKY audiobook—long, detailed post about my first audio narration
- Travelling with a wheelchair and Flying internationally with a wheelchair—the nitty-gritty of wheelchair travel
- Girls of Lost Subcultures—the early 80s photo exhibit featuring me and my ex that was briefly sensational again three years ago
- Neither Dying Nor Being Cured—a transcript of the Ethel Louise Armstrong lecture I gave at Ohio State University
- Disability: Art, Scholarship, and Activism—a presentation on the role of literature in cultural change
- #CripLit Archives—where you can read the archived Twitter chats about various aspects of disability literature, plus find links to lists of book-length fiction that passes the Fries Test
And if you want others’ perspectives, go follow #DisabilityPrideMonth hashtags on Twitter and Instagram and if you’re feeling generous donate some money. I don’t need it (not anymore) but a lot of people do—and Disability Pride has no huge corporate sponsors, disabled people don’t earn huge speaking fees, and disabled artists—writers, musicians, dancers—do not get fat grants.