I’m fifty. Once upon a time I couldn’t have imagined such thing. It seemed so far away. It seemed like a lifetime, and it was. And it is. It is a lifetime of dreams and lessons. A lifetime of battles and triumphs -a lifetime of constant change and continuous evolution. It was hard being young for me (but isn’t this true for everybody?). For me, the eighties were an era of absolute confusion, but like all other eras, they gave birth to great music, and a new revolution, crip culture was awakening fast after ages of oppression. The once upon a time cute poster child image of disability had emerged out of the social cocoon of misconceptions growing wings and words able to pierce a new reality into society’s consciousness.
The eighties cemented the crip-story of the early warriors with disabilities who laid the foundation of Independent Living which consequently led to the conception and birth of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The eighties were our Crip Hippie era. Crip pride and Disability Civil Rights marching and chanting for equality, chanting for change, chaining ourselves to buses that refused us transportation. Chaining ourselves to the doors that refused us access. Chaining ourselves to the rails of the staircases that without saying so, loudly sent the message of “No Crips Allowed.” It wasn’t very far from the bigotry of “White’s Only” of the early fifties. Yet, most youth with disabilities in 21st century America cannot image such history. Few realize that people with disabilities had no rights at all. The curb cut, the accessible transit system, the right to live independently, the opportunity to give and receive and be an active member of society was just an infant dream in the early eighties. Even wheelchairs were just beginning to transform from heavy medical equipment to rides with comfort and personality that allowed rollers to enjoy a more independent lifestyle.
Political correctness also happened around that time. Then it meant calling a person handicapped rather than crippled, and that is perhaps also the time when the word “crip” started to become a term of endearment, a cultural affiliation to owning our disability with pride rather than pity. Yes, I dare say the eighties were officially the “From Pity To Pride” decade, a decade of crip politics and activism -decade of constant battles: Battles with society. Battles with our crip bodies and our own identities. Battles we fought through the power of collective activism. Battles that brought strength and awareness even when we didn’t always win.
The scars of such battles are now badges of survival. Badges we wear with pride and respect as we honor the past advocates with disabilities who made it all happen for us. Back then, the older activists passed the torch of empowerment to the younger generation. Thirty years ago I was a young disabled person finding my way and fighting my own battles in an able-bodied world. I feel it is now my turn to pass the torch to you, the young crip warriors. You, young people with dreams and hopes just like the ones I had when I was your age. You, who ca not imagine yourselves at fifty and who might not imagine right now how the world was before the “NO CRIPS ALLOWED” barriers were partially knocked down -and I say “partially” because there are still so many things left to do as we move towards a future of true inclusion and equality.
I am passing this torch to you because even though we might have grown wings and a roaring voice, there is always more to do. There is always more to change. We must make disability rights a global issue and not forget those whose wars against ignorance, bigotry and discrimination have just begun. It is our duty to share the blessings we own, the lessons we’ve learned. That is what true empowerment is about. Young brothers and sisters with disabilities: Keep this torch of empowerment lit. Learn from the older advocates in your communities. Be visible and outspoken and never forget the responsibility of your personal power. Register to vote. Join the movement that is still alive and waiting for you, the younger generation to be part of it. YOU are the future.
Together, we can change the world.
Love & Crip Power,
Maria R. Palacios