Stores are lining their shelves with candy, teddy bears, and all that is pink and red. Elementary schools are planning parties, flowers are being ordered, restaurant reservations are being made, and jewelry carefully chosen.
Valentine’s Day is right around the corner. The world is buzzing about love and all of its beauty. So why did a recent call for submissions to Audacity on this wide open topic generate a remarkably low number of responses? Why did I have such a hard time putting my thoughts on this subject into words for a public forum? Love, relationships, commitment, and sexuality can definitely be touchy subjects within the disability community.
Some people with disabilities express a cynical approach to all subjects related to love and intimate relationships with others. Whether they have had bad experiences or not had the chance to establish positive examples of love, many have settled that a solitary life is indeed their destiny.
Others have established rigid guidelines beyond what they look for in a partner to include whether their significant other can also have a disability. Some see membership to the disabled culture as a mandatory trait; others see falling in love with another person with a disability as a further complication to their life.
Then, there’s the unknown. Even though the world is inundated with images and portrayals of love, intimacy, and especially, sex, the nonexistence of people with disabilities in this public arena is a statement in itself.
As people with disabilities travel the precarious road to love, they often do so as pioneers. Our culture has neither positive nor scandalous models resembling us to observe in the media. We chart our own paths.
With more than 600 million people with disabilities, 10% of the world’s population, the nonexistence of images, portrayals, and discussions about disability and love cannot be attributed to the fact that we are few in numbers.
Many of us don’t look like average adults, but we possess the same wants, desires, and needs for intimate companionship. The paternalistic attitudes of our society characterize people with disabilities at best, as “cute”, and at worst, as incapable of meeting the emotional and physical needs of a partner in love.
So, what may be a holiday for many can serve as a searing reminder of negative stigmas and what seems to be a hopeless plight for acceptance at the most basic level for others.
After that gloomy reflection, there seems to be little reason left to celebrate! But, that’s hardly my intention. Love isn’t easy for anyone. If finding your soul mate didn’t involve nervousness, a little insecurity, and rejection along the way, it might not be the same journey.
It’s probably no coincidence that we celebrate Valentine’s Day during the shortest month of the year. I’m sure many in the able bodied world also want it over and done with!
For me, Valentine’s Day is one of my favorite holidays. Not only because I cherish all that is pink and glitters, but for far more important reasons. Too often, people define love with confining limits that fail to recognize its true meaning.
Valentine’s Day is a time for me to celebrate love not only with my own soul mate, but also to appreciate the love I feel every day from friends and family, both near and far.
It’s a time to celebrate the little examples of love: the never-failing greeting I receive from my bulldogs, the hard work of volunteers fueled by so many passions, and the freedoms left behind by others offering us avenues to the future.
This Valentine’s Day, more than any other perhaps, we are reminded that love can go beyond even life. With the recent death of influential civil rights leaders, it’s clear that the road to equality can be paved with acts of love that empower others.
Rosa Parks, Betty Friedan, and Coretta Scott King opened doors not only for African Americans and women, but also for all people who have the additional barrier of societal stigmas to overcome in their search for love.
Known as the ‘Father of ADA,’ Justin Dart frequently cited love as both his motivation and method of advocating for the rights and freedoms of people with disabilities around the world.
Through his last words, Dart taught me that love isn’t only a goal to achieve, but it’s a journey to travel, and a battle to fight—and win. I leave you with his words, which resonate the true meaning of love.
“I call for solidarity among all who love justice, all who love life, to create a revolution that will empower every single human being to govern his or her life, to govern the society and to be fully productive of life quality for self and for all….I am with you. I love you. Lead on!”
-Justin Dart (http://www.aapd-dc.org/JFA/justindart/jdleadon.html)