Many feel it is common knowledge that “disabled” is a negative word. As a wheelchair user from a young age myself, it’s seemed like everyone around me has cared more about my disability than I have, for all the wrong reasons.
I was not born with an inherent feeling that I don’t belong, that something is wrong with me—it was only when I was left off the playground without wheelchair access, or when stairs prevented me from joining my classes in games or field trips. And the only thing that ever seemed odd to me was the fact no one was looking for solutions to make it so I could participate. I was given condolences and “special” services to compensate, yet it felt like little action was ever taken to actually fix any of these problems. The root of the exclusion I faced was ignored.
This conception of disability as something that bad happens to you impacts how the world views us, and thus how we’re treated. My disability did not cause these reactions, inaccessibility, or barriers—this negativity was coming from everyone else.
The first thought is often that the word “disabled” means admitting you’re incapable, broken, or something is wrong. Euphemisms such as “special needs,” “differently abled,” and “handicapable” have been adopted more and more into our mainstream language to describe differences in function, seemingly an attempt to create a once-removed description without actually being “disabled.” Quite frankly, there are many more people who actually do have disabilities than there are people who recognize themselves as disabled, because of the stigma of what it means to be disabled and their preconceptions of what it ought to look like. But what is it about disabilities that causes a desire to distance ourselves from claiming it?
This is the basic question myself and several friends, classmates, and colleagues found ourselves asking over the last several years. So often, identifying as “disabled” is avoided at all costs, because there is no widespread pride, no celebration in the variance in function disabled people bring to the world. Disabled people are offered more words of pity, sympathy, and condolences than we are offered equal opportunity, equal access, and a voice of our own.
But disabled people have always existed. And we will always exist. No amount of medical advancements, internalized shame, or apologies for our bodies’ functions will change that fact that we are here, and we are being ignored. How do we begin to create a disability culture, an identity, a movement for people who are so often left out on the sidelines in life, when disability is ignored in the general world? The answer is simple. It is: Crip Riot.
No one is going to create a space for ourselves except for us. We have decided to cultivate a brand to begin attaching a neutral, if not positive, connotation to disability identity—to turn the definition of disability into a term of our own making. Disability has been equated to those who need help, who are powerless or can’t do things on their own. If you’re unconvinced, look to our media; where are the disabled doctors, spouses, or disabled teachers in our shows, movies, and commercials? We’ve been left out of life, and Crip Riot was born to show the world we do have a place in it, and we want to be noticed—on our terms.
But this isn’t an idea or identity set aside for only a certain group of people. Crip Riot is an idea made to be shared with everyone; it is a response to basic systemic barriers many other unrepresented groups face, and our purpose is to create a united front to come together. Anyone can be disabled—it discriminates against no community. Yet there are gaps in resources where disability and other identities intersect. Crip Riot will strive to create a space that supports and empowers identities at these intersections; a place where we can all thrive.
Our goal, if nothing else, is to leave no one feeling left behind because of their identities go unrepresented. And being disabled has no look, no dress code, and is not a country club. Anyone can be disabled—anyone can be mad, insane, cripple, mentally ill, chronically ill, diagnosed, or a person with a disability. Arthritis, poor eyesight, limited mobility, chronic fatigue, low stamina, persistent pain, neurodivergence, ADHD, ADD—we are cut from the same cloth more than we are not. Anyone can be disabled, and the important thing is this: we all belong to a vibrant variety of the human form.
It’s no secret that this pride and equity we speak of has never come without a price. As former members of the Associated Students of the University of Washington (ASUW)—one of two Student Governments at UW—we know what it’s like to fight for resolution to access issues faced by students within our communities, often while facing barriers to accessing our own education and workplaces. We built our legacy up from those that came before us; the activists who fought for (and rioted) for our right to be there in the first place. In fact, the longest sit-in demonstration in a federal building is a record held by disabled activists in the ‘70’s, protesting the delay in signing a law known at “504,” which went on to drastically improve the protection of disabled folks’ right to access the public.
But rioting and engaging in disobedience is often just the first step of many to real change. And that is the most literal definition of protest there is—in reality, protest doesn't have a “proper form.” Simply existing as a disabled person is an act of protest. To be seen in public when the world expects nothing from you, when it pretends you don’t exist, flaunts the underlying idea that we do belong. We’re right where we’re supposed to be, and having pride in an identity everyone has been taught to fear—disability—is revolution alone.
So we haven't burnt down a Target. Yet. Protest can come in different forms, and this is our form of protest. Pride. Crip Riot was not just made to be a space where disabled creators, innovators, and contributors can find a voice, but will begin petition new definitions of disability we want instilled in the world. Disability pride is more powerful than we know, and we’re here bringing it to you, years in the making as we found our cripple friends and community, learning what was needing to start the slow demolition of ableism from our years in student commissions, public speaking, and collaboration with a diverse range of varying disabilities. We’ve been fighting systems of oppression for disabled people since our whippersnapper days, and we’re only looking to expand.
No one is equal until we are all equal, and we’re ready to riot. Are you?
Check out our Disability Pride shirts, lanyards and more at our store- www.cripriot.com/store