Coming out of the Disability Closet

G’day, friends, and welcome to another week’s end and a new post!!

I was talking to someone this week, and they mentioned how difficult it was for them to come out of the disability closet.

This naturally got me thinking because I live under a rock, but I had never heard of the phrase ‘coming out of the disability closet’.

I then started to think about whether or not I experienced coming out of the disability closet and how that experience would be for many people.

Unfortunately, in today’s society, even though it is 2023, there is still very much a stigma that still exists around people with disabilities. The minute they ‘come out’ and say that they have a disability, it can be argued that their ‘worth’ to society is quickly diminished due to accessibility out in public, distasteful comments, employment issues, and direct and indirect discrimination. So I believe that there is a coming out process of sorts, especially for those who may have an invisible disability which, unless you say what it is, no one will know you are disabled.

However, I often feel as though there is another side to the disability closet. And that is self-acceptance and awareness that you are indeed different, disabled, and the life that you had hoped for yourself will never be.

And that, I know, from experience, is a process. It is heartbreaking, and yet liberating.

So when I was thinking about whether I ever felt like I had to come out of the disability closet, my immediate first thought was yes, I did.

And to be honest, I have had to ‘come out’ time and time and time again. Countless times, I have had shop assistances, cashiers, and random strangers who asked and continued to ask if I had hurt my leg or hip when they saw me walk or be helped out of a chair. If I had a dollar, I think I could easily afford a horse!

I know the questions came from a good place, and not wanting to make me uncomfortable, which I do appreciate. Because I know many people would get offended if the question was, “are you disabled” and they weren’t. It’s easier to go with “Did you hurt yourself”.

However, each time I was asked that question, I would always respond with either ‘Yeah, I hurt myself in the gym’ or ‘Yeah, I did something to my leg playing sport at school’. I wasn’t in the mood to correct someone (and I also didn’t want to embarrass them!), so I would agree.

However, it was also from a side of absolutely despising my disability and everything it represented. Admitting that yes I have a disability was essentially coming out to myself!! Recognising that I was different, owning my disability and living with that knowledge was too overwhelming to handle at the time!

For years I chose to live in denial. I so desperately wanted to be ‘like everyone else’, and in a lot of ways, when I was younger, I really could pretend as my ability to do things was much greater! So I couldn’t look at videos of myself walking, photos of myself where my arms were different or me in my scooter, I would switch off during doctor appointments. Whenever someone mentioned disability, I would cringe so hard that I thought permanent cringe lines would form on my face.

Whenever I was in a room with other disabled people, I would try to tell myself I was not like them, didn’t belong in that group, and clearly shouldn’t be there.

Disability was the thing in my life I wasn’t proud of. I hated how my body looked and would wear clothes a size too big to try and hide my arms and skinny calves, essentially trying not to stick out more than I did in my scooter. I felt safer in my little self-built closet.

It wasn’t until I turned 18 that I slowly started to turn a page. I started using disability language more frequently and started being grateful that my scooter gave me more freedom instead of being the thing I thought restricted me.

I started to view my life as something that, while different, is so special. My disability doesn’t wholly limit me, it gives me opportunities that I wouldn’t have otherwise! Sure, there are days when things are complicated, and society may not be all that accepting or accessible, for that matter. Still, my disability is nothing to be ashamed of.

However, it still took me until the last couple of years to start saying to that stranger who asks if I have done something to my leg, ‘No, I am disabled’ and feeling comfortable to do so!

And all honesty, it took me up until last year to fully embrace my disability in its entirety and not be ashamed of it any more.

It well and truly is a process. And that is okay.

Coming out of the disability closet presents many new hurdles and challenges for people in the disability space. Access to employment, venues, events, general human acceptance, and self-acceptance! Don’t get me wrong, it is so much easier to stay in the disability closet for many reasons.

However, since I essentially ‘came out’ of the disability closet, I am more quirky, happy-go-lucky, less serious, more willing to stand up for myself, and more willing to try new things!!

Sure, I know that being loud and proud of my disability also presents tricky moments, where it can easily be used as a scapegoat by others, especially on the employment front! Being misunderstood, discriminated against and potentially missing out on things that non-disabled people get to enjoy. But I am okay with that because I have found a way to embrace and love my life honestly.

It has given me a new circle of people who get disability life and can take the mick out of each other in good taste. Sure, will the world ever be 100% accepting of you and your disability? I want to think one day, but the reality is opinions and perceptions will clash. And that is also okay. There are plenty of people out there who will ‘get it’. You will never have to explain your situation, never have to ask for things it will already be done, and you will indeed be able to be your authentic proud disabled self!!

Disability life, while messy at times, should be celebrated. It is what makes you, you. Just know that we have all been through similar journeys, and if you reading this are still ‘in the closet,’ know I see you, I am here for you, and it will be okay!

Till next week,


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