Where is the disability community?

Many people define community as a group of people sharing (or who shared) a common locale, neighborhood or area. Some say community refers to people with the same beliefs and values. Under these definitions, I am a member of many communities, including my town, my church, an alumna, etc.

But I also belong to the disability community, a community that is growing as there is increased awareness of the commonality of many of our experiences. This community also consists of our allies, something I’ve learned from my online affiliations. The disability community, in my opinion, fits into some conventional definitions of community yet also stretches those definitions in ways that may at first not seem important, but are.

The disability community, in part, is one that arises from the common experiences of living with a disability as well as those who, by choice or affiliation, become allies through experience. For example, yesterday I went out on my scooter wearing my T shirt that I got at the Ski for Light* trip. It reads “Blind People Do It in The Dark”. As I went along at my top speed of 4mph, a few summer college students stopped me and asked where I got the T shirt, explaining that they were doing a project on disability. We got some coffee and talked about their project for about a half hour after I discovered from their questions that they really intended to do further research and just needed some context. (I must be a frustrated teacher because I do not like helping students when their research starts and ends with me.) I could sense that these students were potential allies.

We parted ways and I continued to scoot along. A woman with Down syndrome waiting for a bus stopped me and asked if my scooter was new because it was so red and shiny. I told her that it was brand new and she asked how it worked so I demonstrated that and she hugged me and wished me luck with it. I experienced that “click” I generally do when I’m around someone from the disability community and when a nearby person asked me “Do you know her?” I replied “yes.” I do now.

I stopped near a park bench for a few minutes. An older man driving a Caddy who was parked at a meter got out of his car, sat on the bench and talked to me while he waited for his wife to come out of a nearby store. He explained that his daughter had MS and was having difficulty accepting that she needed a mobility device. I spoke to him for about fifteen minutes about that situation.

The answer to the question I pose above is that the disability community is all around us, locally and globally. Some days I wish we could take an aerial photo of everyone’s town and chart the connectedness between people with disabilities, their allies, friends, families and loved ones. I think, even though some people still experience encountering someone with a disability as an uncomfortable and out of the ordinary experience, this would go a long way toward showing how that is more of a perception issue than a reality.

The truth is, however, that like any community, it often falls short to define it in geographic or spatial terms. In the case of the disability community I’ve found this to be particularly true and look forward to writing more about that.

*Ski for Light is an organization that offers adaptive skiing for both mobility and visually impaired participants.

Copyright 2007 Ruth Harrigan

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