Incorporating Disability

August 26, 2016 | Isabella Kres-Nash

My name is Isabella Kres-Nash, I am a student at Brown University, but I am from Seattle Washington, my pronouns are she-her-hers, and I identify a multiracial black woman.

This is how I have come to introduce myself when speaking publicly. This statement, and its variations, allows me to let an audience know a little about who I am, and how my identities might affect my perspective on a given topic. I claim these identities, in this way, as both recognition of where I come from and as a political statement that informs where I plan to go.

This summer as I reflect on this introductory statement as stated above it becomes clear that some part of myself is missing. As an AAPD intern I, of course, have a disability, and yet even though I have been disabled since birth I am only now beginning to incorporate that language into my identity. Incorporating disability into how I speak about myself has not been an easy journey. Similarly to the evolution of the disability community’s identity to the world I have attempted to hide myself in order to fit in. There are many reasons for this, but I believe the most prevalent one is I never felt connected to a community of other people with disabilities before this summer. I know that this type of connection is critical because of the role community played in shaping other identities I hold. As a Black woman so much of my identity has been formed by interactions with Black culture, history, and of course communities of Black people. My identity as a woman has formed from similar factors.

Prior to coming to DC I had never experienced spaces where people came together as a community of people with disabilities, and as a result my introduction into the disability community was a bit of a culture shock. While the disability community is full of amazing people doing great work, it is also very different than other identity-based communities. This difference is because society frames disability as a solitary experience, or that because we have specific diagnosis we cannot identify with the struggles of other people with different disabilities. I think that this way of thinking is incredibly common both among people with disabilities, and for able-bodied people, but is also incredibly dangerous. As people who move through the world with disabilities there are so many experiences we share, and we have so much to learn from each other. I relearn this lesson every time I talk to another person with a disability.

Regardless of our diagnoses, society sees us for our differences and treats us accordingly. As a result, it will be impossible to dismantle ableism in this world if we fixate on how we are differently-abled as individuals. The future success of the disability rights movement depends on our ability to come together as a permanent community. Not simply to accomplish a goal, like the passage of the Disability Integration Act (DIA) or push an agenda, but to build long lasting connections across disability. We need to radically redefine what activism looks like within PwD circles, so that when one group needs support, others can mobilize. To do this we must learn to invest in each other’s’ struggles out of love and empathy first, and agenda later.

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Isabella Kres-Nash was a 2016 AAPD Summer Intern who interned with Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee. She is currently a junior at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, studying political science and history.

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