Recently, this blog post has been making its rounds on my facebook newsfeed. It's about how the writer thinks the word cripple is better than "disabled". So far three people have reposted it, but I did not read it until this morning. My friend Stephanie commented that I was “ahead of the game,” so I gave it a glance.
I have been calling myself a cripple for 12 years. When I first started doing it, people were appalled, especially disabled people. Some of the most common responses were, “You shouldn’t put yourself down”; “you’re not crippled, you’re ‘differently abled’!”; “You don’t want the world to see you that way, do you?” Now when I say it, most people are still appalled; but my fellow cripples? They’re giving me the fist bump. It’s amazing what twelve years can do.
I am not saying that I made this change single handedly. I didn’t. But in college I was one of the only people who were truly proud of being disabled. While most other people in my age group were trying their best to highlight the things that they could do, to show the world they were no different and to make their disabilities a small (and insignificant) fraction of who they were, I was shining a spotlight on mine and shouting “HEY YOU! LOOK AT ME! I AM CRIPPLED! I KNOW I’M AWESOME AND YOU ARE TOTALLY JEALOUS.”
I remember sophomore year of college, I chalked the phrase: Being disabled is fun; everyone should try it!” on the sidewalk in front of my apartment. Later that night, the resident advisors knocked on the door and started yelling at my roommate for the offensive and discriminatory phrases she wrote on the sidewalk. She walked away and said,
“Melissa, you have company.” I rolled up to the door and smiled at the two girls. They were a lot nicer to me.
“You wrote this?” they asked.
“Yup,” I replied.
“Oh,” they said. “Have a nice night.”
I closed the door. My roommate couldn’t believe it.
“How can they think it’s offensive and discriminatory when I write it but not when you do it?”
“What are they gonna do Stephy, tell me my life isn’t fun? There was nothing offensive about that. They are just not used to people like me being out and proud.” We still laugh about that story to this day.
I was a cripple. I was done apologizing for it. I wanted everyone to know I was sick of the issue being skirted around. Sick of being asked “What do you like to be called?” and “Do you have any special needs we should be concerned with?” and having to answer politely because people “meant well.” So I started answering truthfully. “Melissa.” I’d say, and when they looked confused, “if you must, just tell them I’m a cripple.” As for my needs, I actually told one person I hadn’t gotten laid in a while. It turned out that wasn’t a need they were prepared to accommodate. Their loss.
Calling myself a cripple was my way of accepting my disability. It was completely liberating to no longer feel like it was my duty to make other people feel okay about the fact that I was disabled; to try to fit in and to be ‘normal’.
And why shouldn’t I be proud? My disability has put me through the ringer. It has knocked me down. It has said, “You’ll never succeed; you’ll never have real friends and no one could ever love you or want you.” And in response, I told my disability to fuck off, I had succeeded. Not by fitting my square butt into a round hole or by insisting that I was just like everyone else, but by embracing the fact that it didn’t and I wasn’t.
It worked for me, and apparently now it is working for others as well. This is one change that I can embrace. Here’s to a world full of cripples; loud and proud and not backing down.