What My Invisible Disability Taught Me About Intersectional Feminism
Last year, Feminism (with a capital F) was at an all-time high. Merriam-Webster Dictionary even named it the word of the year, making it seem like there was a place for everyone in this movement. But in order for that to truly happen, feminism needs to be intersectional. The idea behind intersectional feminism is that a person advocates for all social justice issues, not just the ones that affect them. It means we need to consider how things like race, class, ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation come into play. But still, there’s a piece missing: disability advocacy.
In 2016, I was diagnosed with severe learning disabilities, specifically ADD/ADHD. It’s weird to think that I had gone over 16 years dealing with the effects without a proper diagnosis. In a way, it was a huge relief to finally have answers and be able to explain certain aspects of my behavior with a label. However, as soon as I brought disability advocacy into my pre-existing passion for social justice, I felt shut down by those around me.
Non-disabled individuals often dismiss the views of disabled advocates, especially if the disability is invisible, such as a learning disability or a mental disability. I found it so strange how people listened to my opinions and thoughts before—but once I had my diagnosis, people brushed me off as “incompetent” or “stupid.” It was as though in an instant, I had been sucked into a storm of raging ableism, even though my diagnosis didn’t change me as a person. I was faced with a choice: I could either hide my disability, or work a million times harder just to be heard. I chose the latter.
Since that epiphany, I’ve made it my mission to take down systems that oppress disabled folks of all kinds. It’s important to distinguish the differences in the struggles of learning disabled, physically disabled, and mentally disabled individuals; although they sometimes overlap, we often have different obstacles to overcome.
One thing that I’ve noticed about the disabled community—something that makes me so proud—is our dedication to sticking up for others, even those who do not struggle in the same ways that we do. Physically disabled activists speak out against insults thrown at mentally and cognitively disabled people. Activists with invisible disabilities advocate for wheelchair accessibility and better employment conditions for our physically disabled brothers and sisters. There’s a sense of community, belonging, and teamwork.
The participation of non-disabled advocates within disability advocacy is lacking, to say the least. Work alongside us to help us protect and secure our rights as individuals, as many of us have done for you. Talent agencies and brands that champion diversity need to expand beyond diversity of gender and race into diversity of ability. If you want to be a part of intersectional feminism, you need to recognize and participate in disability advocacy, as well.
We’re building a platform. We have a voice. Are you ready to listen?
By Rebekah Harding, 17