Apologies to James Brown for the title of this post, as his 1968 funk classic “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud” (click here to listen) helped galvanize the civil rights movement in America, offering a joyous rallying cry to people who for far too long had suffered at the hands of racism and oppression. The song was not only a shout of protest, but an admonition to embrace the very thing that conferred minority status on an entire people and turn what for some had at one time been a mark of shame into a badge of honor. On top of all that, the song irresistibly generates the urge to get up and shake your groove thing. That is, of course, if you are able to get up at all.
Those of us whose disease has progressed to the point where shaking our groove things is a distant memory and has left us visibly disabled – reliant on canes, walkers, or wheelchairs – also find ourselves members of a minority group, the disabled, the inclusion in which leaves some feeling invisible, helpless, and diminished. Much of the world simply isn’t designed for people who don’t have full use of their limbs, and the fully functional folks who populate it can be insensitive, uncaring, ignorant, and sometimes even intolerant. Though much progress has been made in in the fight for the rights of the disabled, the struggle is closer its beginning than its end.
Throughout much of history, victims of chronic illness, particularly of the kind that deform or disable, have often been looked upon with scorn, as if getting sick was somehow a mark of shame, the afflicted somehow responsible for their own affliction.