Liam Lambert: Disability Capitol Action Day can change the way you think
First, a confession. Growing up, people with disabilities made me … uncomfortable.
I had no specific issue with them, per se, but I always had a hard time relating to them. The fact that I was, and am, myself disabled, complicated things somewhat, to say the least.
Then, a couple years ago, everything changed. Here’s how:
When I was growing up, my mother’s constant refrain to me was “Why don’t you embrace your disability more?”
I was pretty confused by this. I lived every day with cerebral palsy and all the fun experiences it brought with it, bullying, not being able to tie my shoes until I was 14, social anxiety like you wouldn’t believe. Thankfully, I had a finely developed sense of sarcasm and a gift for comebacks, so it could’ve been worse, but it was still pretty bad.
But what did she mean by “embrace” my disability?
Should I fall down … more? Stumble heavier? Be slower moving on the playground? And the efforts that were made to socialize me with other kids with disabilities always ended up feeling a little weird.
We had an after-school group, which consisted of about 10 or so kids with various degrees and types of disabilities, ranging from quadriplegics in wheelchairs to a kid who lost his leg when he got hit by a train, and we’d sit around and talk about our troubles with a social worker, and then go our separate ways until the next Thursday.
I always felt somewhat apart from that, since I was not so strikingly disabled (to my hubristic mind, anyway). I just walked a little funny and couldn’t do math or puzzles.
So, I grew up with something of a chip on my shoulder regarding my disability.
I mean, I knew about it, and if you knew me, you knew about it. But don’t point it out, or make a thing out of it. Ironically, as I grew up, the friends I made were closer than I might like to admit to those kids I didn’t relate to years earlier. I sought out people who, while not themselves disabled, simply did not fit into the boxes society had prepared for us. I still do that, fostering a sense of self that was my lifeline for much of my teens and twenties.
Then, I discovered something called DCAD, or Disability Capitol Action Day.
Basically, it’s an annual event wherein several thousand people with disabilities from across California, their families, friends and caregivers converge on the Capitol, in Sacramento, for a day of discussion, meeting with legislators, advocacy and community. The event started in 2003 and has served as a means to affect change in the disabled community throughout the state.
I attended in my capacity as an employee of FREED, the local Independent Living Resource Center. It was amazing. To see so many people, in such a broad swath of levels and types of disability, coming together as a unit, and standing up for themselves, was mind boggling.
The moment that changed everything for me was tiny, but no less important for it.
I watched a young girl, no more than 7 or 8, with My Little Pony and Steven Universe stickers all over her somewhat unwieldy aluminum walker, navigate the crowd of chairs and people. Her head held high, her movements purposeful, she wasn’t looking for help, she didn’t have someone following her around (though surely someone caregiver-y was somewhere nearby). She was just there, part of the day, thriving, participating, embracing her disability.
It only took me 30 years, but I finally figured out what my mom was talking about, I think. Better late than never, right?
That’s the main takeaway I had from my DCAD experience, and the main reason I think everyone who can go should go at least once. It’ll turn your brain, regardless of your perspective on the issues of disability, around on itself, broadening perspectives, and will revolutionize your thinking.
It’s not just for people with disabilities, either. It’s for anyone who might become someday disabled or know or love someone who might become disabled. You know, all of us.
In a time when society seems bound and determined to undermine persons with disabilities, when the President can mock a disabled reporter, or call the Paralympics “hard to watch,” the kind of community and spirit of togetherness and inclusion inherent in DCAD is needed now more than ever.
DCAD takes place this year on June 7 in Sacramento. Contact FREED for more information at 530-477-3333.
Liam Lambert, who lives in Grass Valley, is a member of The Union Editorial Board. His views are his own and do not represent the views of The Union or its editorial board members. Contact him at EditBoard@TheUnion.com.
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