Karin Hitselberger is a disability rights activist and freelance writer. She has cerebral palsy: a permanent movement disorder that affects one’s coordination and whose symptoms include stiff or weak muscles and tremors. Hitselberger blogs about the intersection of disability, fashion, and body acceptance. In this post, Hitselberger takes issue with the language sometimes used in discussing cerebral palsy and disability.As you read, take notes on the author’s perspective on disability and ableism.
Recently, I saw a picture on Facebook that said, “I fight cerebral palsy. What’s your superpower?” So much about this illustration focusing on cerebral palsy awareness struck me as wrong and uncomfortable, and it left me with a nauseous feeling in my stomach. Immediately images of me at constant battle with myself popped into my head. Fight cerebral palsy? I thought. How would that even be possible? How could I constantly be at war with something that is so intrinsically a part of me, and why would I even want to fight a battle that could never really be won?
It brought back memories of childhood when I honestly believed that if I could “just be like everyone else,” everything would be fine. It brought back memories of frustration with a body that never seemed to do what I wanted it to do, and feeling so desperately like I wanted to fit in but thinking I was the problem. Feeling like being able to walk was the magical cure that would solve all my problems, and that if I just had a “normal” body like my sister, everything would be perfect.Q1
Thankfully, times have changed, and I am not that little girl anymore. It took a long time, but I have learned to love my spazzy body, and I no longer see walking as the magical cure that will solve all my problems. Instead, I have learned to embrace my wheelchair as the amazing tool it is. The tool that allows me to see the world and live my life on my own terms. Slowly, I have learned I am not the problem and never have been. I have learned that cerebral palsy is not something to be battled with, overcome or conquered. It is a part of me — a complicated part for sure, but a beautiful one, and I wouldn’t change it for anything. It has shaped my life and the way I view the world around me, and it’s given me so many great relationships and experiences for which I will be forever grateful.
I will never say I fight my disability because doing that would be fighting a war against myself, and a very important part of me. I will never say I fight cerebral palsy because disability, and cerebral palsy, are not problems to be battled.Q2
I will say I fight ableism and prejudice.
I will say I fight lack of access, stigma and ignorance.
I will say I fight discrimination.
I will say I fight these things, because I do. These are battles to fight, and win. It is ableism, prejudice, lack of access, stigma, ignorance and discrimination that prevent me from having the same opportunities in life as my able-bodied brother and sister, not my cerebral palsy, my wheelchair or my inability to walk.
I will fight to make this world a better place for future generations of kids just like me.
I will fight to make sure they are never told or led to believe their bodies are a problem or something they must do battle against on a daily basis just to fit in.
I will fight to make sure those kids have the same opportunities as everybody else, and never believe everything would be better if they could just change who they are.
I will fight for a world where the mere presence of disability does not make you extraordinary. Where disabled children are taught to aspire to more than just existing, and where being disabled doesn’t mean you have to be 10 times better than everyone else just to be good enough.
I will fight for a world where we talk about living with and owning our disabled bodies rather than overcoming them.
I will fight for a better world, and a better future, because those things are worth fighting for, but I will not fight a war against myself.Q3
- Ableism is a form of discrimination or social prejudice against people with disabilities, as well as an institution that favors able-bodied people. x