From Brain Injury Awareness to Pride

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I wrote here recently that we need to move on from Awareness Months and have Appreciation Months (or years or lifetimes).

Lots of times people describe my films as “raising awareness.” I would definitely say that is not my goal. Really, I want to show people with brain injury as complete humans, as part of the community. And where we’re so often not part of a community we might want to be in, I want people to acknowledge that instead of brush the comment aside and feel defensive and helpless. Because we can collaborate on how to get more inclusion and acceptance.

The brain injury awareness events that focus on individuals’ injuries and problems instead of how a community reacts and responds to injured people (or doesn’t) don’t really encourage acceptance. They evoke pity or empathy or sympathy. But then you get to go home and go back to your life where nothing changed for the storytellers other than having revealed a lot of very personal information and receiving applause for it. Events where people share their injury story kind of like a talking zoo exhibit remind me of disability simulation exercises. Immerse yourself in only some aspects of disability for a short period of time and then convince yourself you got the whole story.

I’m not convinced these events help us understand the complexity and reality of life with disability. We shouldn’t pick and choose which things get the awareness raising. It’s all important. And not just the hard stuff but also the glorious stuff.

How many documentaries about people with disabilities have you seen that talk about pride? There are some! If you know of one you really like, please put the name in the comments section for everyone!

What is disability pride? Sarah Triano wrote about it on the Independence Empowerment Center’s site. She wrote: “Although there are many barriers facing people with disabilities today, one of the single greatest obstacles we face as a community is our own sense of inferiority, internalized oppression and shame.” Whether you feel inferior or ashamed of yourself, or you look at someone else with impairments and say “Ew! At least I’m not like that person!” you might just be buying into society’s disappointment that people with disabilities exist and want to be included.

I hear this. One disability is better than another. A person with mild impairments is more worthy and valuable than someone with significant impairments. It’s better to have a physical impairment than a cognitive one! Folks. Let’s get together instead of ranking each other based on standards developed by non-disabled people. Because we can all have acceptance and pride. They’re not limited resources.

Emily Ladau recently wrote this: “[Y]ou can be ‘aware’ of me all you want….You can analyze and discuss and dissect [disability simulation exercises] from a million different angles. But we must move away from equating empathy with acceptance. We must embrace differences as a fact of human existence.”

Happy People with Brain Injury Acceptance Month this March and beyond.