5 minute read

For three decades, Borshoff partnered with the Indiana Governor’s Council for People with Disabilities supporting its mission and initiatives through advocacy, education and promotional efforts. One of our keystone projects was Disability Awareness Month every March – a comprehensive and far-reaching statewide grassroots program, which garnered significant results in raising public awareness of disability issues. We are proud of our partnership with the Governor’s Council and have remained a close friend and strong supporter of the important work it is doing. Below is a blog by Kate Barrow, Executive Director, who shares her perspective on Disability Pride Month this July and the platform it provides for valuing people with disabilities and celebrating our differences. -Karen Alter, CEO, Borshoff

By Kate Barrow, Executive Director, Indiana Governor’s Council for People with Disabilities

Kate is a sibling of an adult with an intellectual/developmental disability, a sibling to an adult with ADHD, and a parent to two neurodivergent children- disability is just part of life. She has a BA Honors in Sociology from Bishop’s University in Quebec, Canada, and a MA in Applied Sociology from the University of Indianapolis.

July is Disability Pride Month, coinciding with the annual celebration of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and sending an empowering message to people with and without disabilities: your identity as a disabled person is valued, important, and to be celebrated.

From a personal perspective, I am learning to lean-in to my identity as neurodivergent and being proud of how my brain works rather than hiding my differences or worse, feeling shame for being who I am. I wasn’t granted that opportunity in my school age years or even in college. It wasn’t until I began my work with the Indiana Governor’s Council for People with Disabilities that I learned about disability pride, justice, and affirmation. It wasn’t until this time that I found a community that welcomed me with open arms and helped me see myself as the badass human being I’m starting to feel like. What could be more empowering or affirming than that? The more I shed my past of hiding who I am, how I think, and how I see myself in this ableist world, the more I feel compelled to share Disability Pride with others, so they too can discover the person within themselves who can take on the world that seeks to keep us quiet, and ultimately feel a sense of belonging.

First, I want to normalize disability by self-disclosing: I am neurodivergent (ADHD), struggle with anxiety and depression (mental health challenges) and have an autoimmune condition (Hashimoto’s Hypothyroid). Oftentimes I’m asked, “Aren’t you worried about disclosing your diagnoses?” Truthfully- yes, always; no one wants to experience judgement, rejection, and invalidation of their lived experience. I also remind myself that when I keep my disability identity to myself, there is someone out there struggling with self-acceptance and self-love. When I keep it to myself, I maintain the status quo of hiding a very important part of my human experience, and that has to stop. Stepping into that identity, that light, and not giving two cents (I’m using less explicative language here) what someone else thinks of me is so hard, but so worth it. I sometimes wish that my childhood had been different in this respect; what kind of person would I have been had my identity as neurodivergent been celebrated instead of something I had to hide? The mental energy of hiding my neurodivergence as a teenager on top of being a teenager was exhausting and trying to “fit in” was an uncomfortable exercise of second-guessing myself and feeling like I fell short all too often. Some days I still lapse into that mindset.

The more we normalize Disability Pride, in the month of July and year-round, the more empowered and visible the disability community becomes, and the closer we get to creating real inclusion and belonging in our communities. From a professional standpoint, the Indiana Governor’s Council for People with Disabilities is an ideal facilitator and trailblazer for fostering and cultivating Disability Pride in Indiana. As the agency that challenged the idea that people with developmental disabilities are an “inspiration” to others in 2017 and continued that thought exercise by the Challenging Assumptions conference in 2019, the Council can continue to lead the way in Indiana by changing the mindsets of people with disabilities, and especially those without disabilities, about what it means to celebrate Disability Pride. As an agency, GCPD is working to create a workplace culture that models the way. We celebrate the lived experience of people with disabilities; we contract with, hire, and elevate the voices of people with disabilities in all aspects of what we do and continue to strive to “know better, do better” when we learn something new.  Disability Pride allows us as an agency to pause and reflect on the immense and rich history of the disability rights movement, to mourn the loss of those with disabilities who have been harmed, and to continue to be motivated by living leaders to keep engaging for change. We have the opportunity to make a profound difference in the lives of others, to challenge the status quo of what it means to be disabled in Indiana (and the US), and to support people with disabilities address their own internalized ableism, stigma and shame in order to fully embrace their identity as a disabled person.