Posted On: July 28, 2021
Disability pride has always been a major component of the Dream Big curriculum. Appropriately enough, Dream Big Career Camp takes place primarily in July, which we recognize as Disability Pride Month.
Instilling disability pride in our Dream Big students is a passion shared by all of SDI’s youth programs staff. But when young people are reluctant to use the word ‘disability,’ the task becomes a bit more difficult.
“When we conduct our initial interviews with students before camp, we ask what their disability is,” says Danielle Giuffrida, Dream Big Camp Coordinator. “Some students say they don’t know; others say they don’t have a disability.”
So where does this lack of comfort and familiarity with disability come from? Like so many things, Danielle says it starts at home.
“When parents don’t acknowledge or use the term disability, it sends a message to their children that it’s not a good word,” Danielle explains. “So it takes longer for us to build that disability acceptance and pride with the students.”
Parents often use euphemistic terms like ‘special’, ‘differently-abled’ or ‘super power’ when describing their child with a disability. While undoubtedly well-intentioned, attempts at softening language in this way can ultimately contribute to their children developing a crisis of identity.
“Their hearts are in the right place, but I think they just don’t want their child to be perceived as different,” Danielle assesses. “I believe society stigmatizes disability and gives it a negative connotation, so we’re really trying to educate parents and show them that it’s okay to use the word.”
At Starkloff Disability Institute, the word disability is ingrained in our history through the tireless advocacy work of our Founders, Max and Colleen Kelly Starkloff.
“Identifying as disabled or a person with disability is steeped in years of disability rights advocacy. Advocates decided that we did not like the label ‘handicapped’ and we chose the word ‘disabled’ or ‘people with disabilities’ to refer to ourselves,” explains Colleen Kelly Starkloff.
“The accomplishments of people with disabilities are monumental, when you consider what one is up against in managing their own disability and achieving their goals”, noted Ms. Starkloff. “Accepting who you are as a person first, with a disability second, and achieving your own success leads to personal empowerment. This is what drives disability rights advocates and is the foundation of our Movement and of the Starkloff Disability Institute.”
Programs like Dream Big and Access U exist to help students and their families successfully navigate the transition from high school to college and adulthood. Even with this wealth of support and resources at their disposal, uncertainty surrounding their child’s education, career, and independent life as an adult can discourage parents from fully confronting reality.
“The term disability may trigger some things they would rather not think about,” Danielle observes. “Struggling with that fear of the unknown makes some parents reluctant to embrace disability.”
But Disability Pride Month is a great time to calm some of those fears and draw strength from others in the disability community. Virtual celebrations of disability pride have taken place all throughout the month. Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and TikTok are buzzing with uplifting messages of disability pride. Proud people with disabilities are sharing their stories through countless videos and blogs. Documentaries like “Crip Camp” commemorate the immense struggle and sacrifice that eventually resulted in the passage of antidiscrimination laws like the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, changes in employment laws and so much more that constitute the successes and enduring legacy we can all take pride in.
When parents join in the celebration with their kids and become actively involved in the disability community, the future becomes brighter for everyone.
“The subject of pride and self-advocacy allows students to feel more comfortable acknowledging and talking about disability,” Danielle concludes. “I think it’s important for parents to get involved in the celebration, because then students recognize that there is nothing to be ashamed of, that they can be proud of their identity as someone with a disability.”